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City makes it clear it wants new library to be part of Baker Street plans

But Mayor cautions library could end up being a 'hurdle' to finding a private partner
20160421 BAKER STREET ts

Guelph City Council agreed Monday night that any interest a private partner has in redeveloping the Baker Street parking lot will have to include a new library.

But Mayor Cam Guthrie put a cautionary word in at the special council meeting, saying that council has to be prepared for the fact that a library could scare private partners off.

“We need to have a really good conversation if no one is interested in a library,” Guthrie told his fellow members of council.

He said that making a library a mandatory part of Baker Street redevelopment could end up being a “hurdle” and that council needs “to be willing to have that conversation.”

It was the only shadow cast on an otherwise big step forward in finally moving forward with a redevelopment process that has been 10 years in the making.

Extensive work by city staff has resulted in finally getting the point where a request for proposal will be issued, with private partners being able to come forward with plans they may see for the lot.

First will come a September report from the Guelph Library Board that includes a proposed business plan, size and cost for the library it wants.

Council would then have to agree on parameters in order to include those details in the RFP.

All members of council agree with the need for a new library.

Then the city will cast its line and see who bites.

“This is a money maker for the city of Guelph,” urged the Mayor, adding that while the site may be downtown, the whole city benefits from the uses and taxes that will follow redevelopment of what he called an “underperforming asset.”

Much of Monday night’s meeting was spent making sure the library was firmly entrenched in the RFP.

Original wording in the staff recommendation had the words “may include” a library.

Several delegates, and eventually a motion by Coun. Cathy Downer, ensured that a library is firmly a part of any parameters being considered by private interests.

City staff said the “may include” was more of a timing thing, with the city not wanting to scare off any potential developers before they were fully aware of the situation and parameters.

“We just didn’t want a developer making a poor decision and eliminating themselves early,” Stewart said.

“For sure the library is in.”

Three delegates spoke of the need to make a new library the centerpiece of the Baker Street redevelopment.

Susan Watson said “the devil is in the detail and the detail is still in that word ‘may.’”

Watson expressed concern about the absence of public consultation in the plans, particularly given the shift from a city-developed Baker Street District to one driven by private interests, she said.

Peter Cartwright, the city’s General Manager of Business Development and Enterprise, said that there has been extensive public consultation throughout the process of the city’s plans for Baker Street.

Lin Grist of Good Growth Guelph echoed Watson’s sentiment about the absence of public consultation to date and in the foreseeable future.

“A new downtown library should be at the centre of it, not at the periphery,” said Jonathan Webb.