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City eyes less risky involvement in sale/development of provincial lands

Had planned on buying the Guelph Innovation District lands, including the former Turfgrass Institute and Wellington Detention Centre properties
An aerial view of the turfgrass institute lands that are part of the Guelph Innovation District. University of Guelph photo

City staff has had a change of heart when it comes to how it thinks the city should be involved in redeveloping the so-called Guelph Innovation District.

The province owns 326 acres of land that make up the GID, stretching from York Road to Stone Road and including lands that used to be home to the Wellington Correctional Centre and Turfgrass Institute.

It does not include the majority of the old Guelph Correctional Centre property.

In 2017 council voted in favour of moving ahead with a plan to purchase the land from the province and then proceed with finding development partners to build a variety of uses on the land.

That plan was seen by city staff as a way of maintaining control of the property and making sure it is developed in accordance with the city’s wishes.

“This is a chance to realize that vision and goals we’ve been looking for for so many years,” Mayor Cam Guthrie said back in 2017.

The land was valued at $60 million and the city would have had to come up with roughly $10 million as it moved through the process, money it was going to take from reserves.

But a new report heading to council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on March 4 advises council to back out of attempting to buy the land from the province because it was too risky for the city and instead accept a new proposal from the province.

“A due diligence process by staff in 2018 revealed that a City acquisition of the Province’s lands would not keep the City financially whole at the completion of the process. Further, the financial exposure does not allow staff to follow Council directed cost recovery,” the report says.

The new proposal from the province would allow the city to have a say in the sale of the lands and how they are developed but would not leave them on the hook financially.

“In 2019, the Province proposed a new approach for collaboration with the City on the disposition of lands. The approach eliminates the need for the City to acquire the Province’s lands and minimizes financial, reputational and legal risks to the City,” the staff report says.

“If approved by Council, the new approach would have City staff collaborating with the Province on a Provincial-led real estate transaction. Staff would provide GID with content for the marketing strategy and evaluation criteria for inclusion in the Province’s disposition of land.”

If council backs the new plan the land will go on the open market later this year.


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