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City looks at buying/selling former Turfgrass Institute and Wellington Detention Centre lands

City staff sees it as a preferred option to the province selling it to the highest bidder
An aerial view of the turfgrass institute lands that the city is looking at purchasing and then reselling to developers. University of Guelph photo

The City of Guelph is looking at taking its real estate destiny into its own hands when it comes to the Guelph Innovation District.

That’s the city’s name for the mostly provincially-owned property bordered by York Road to the north, Victoria Road to the west and Stone Road to the South.

Staff is proposing the city approve further investigation into a plan developed by staff and the province over the past year that would see the city conditionally purchase 243 acres of provincial land and then resell that property to developers.

Staff says it is a preferable option than the province putting the land on the open market and would allow the city to have greater control of what eventually becomes of the property.

That property consists of the former Turfgrass institute property and the old Wellington Detention Centre land. It would not include the larger Guelph Reformatory Lands fronting York Road. The province is saying it will sell that property separately later, a city report says.

The city would also eventually be given 38 acres of conservation land that is also part of the node.

The plan would see the city put a deposit on the property then pay for the process involved in finding the right developer to sell it to. If all went according to plan, the transactions would have zero net cost to the city.

The city would use two reserve funds: one for the deposit (up to $6.5 million) and the other to manage the project and administer the request for proposal process (up to $3.5 million).

A price tag for the land has not been revealed.

The city wouldn’t lose its deposit with the province unless deal with a developer fell through at the end stage and the city decided to walk away from the whole thing.

“Staff acknowledges that its recommendation to implement this proposal is bold, and provides for significant yet controlled and mitigated financial exposure,” the report says.

The plan calls for the property to be sold to a developer by the end of 2019.

It is also anticipated that the city’s cost in administering the fully-realized plan (up to $3.5 million) would be recouped when the property is sold to a developer.

“The financial pro-forma regarding the acquisition and subsequent re-sale of the property are subject to further negotiations between the city, province and potential development interest. The objective of the pro-forma is to recover 100 per cent of the city’s costs to implement the RFP (request for proposal), acquire and re-sell the GID proper,” says the staff report.

The plan as laid out by staff is that by owning the land and choosing the developer and development proposal, the city has better control over the property in seeing it conform to the City of Guelph Secondary Plan. That plan, passed in 2014, calls for the area to be a mixed-use zone comprising of residential, commercial and a “knowledge based innovation cluster.”

That plan has been appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board by developers who feel the city is ‘jumping the queue’ of development plans with its own plan.

“It also should be noted that the city has committed significant funds regarding the planning and delivery of infrastructure in the east end of the city, in great part to attract and leverage private sector investment, with the objective of achieving a transformative change within the boundary of York, Victoria, and Watson Road. This proposal will assist with the transformation of Victoria Road from the river south to Stone Road,” the report says.

The staff proposal will be heard at a council planning meeting on Dec. 11.