Friday, January 7, 2005

150 Years of Robbery and Theft

Of course the budget crisis in London is the fault of the province - it has nothing to do with capital projects, such as this one, as reported on in The Londoner: such project that could be under consideration soon is a new City Hall. With employees currently working out of numerous locations across the city, the question can legitimately be asked just how much longer the existing structure will serve local needs.

While admitting such a project is not close to a priority at this time, city manager Jeff Fielding says a new City Hall may be something that needs to be looked at.

“Certainly down the road it’s a question of examining our long-term needs. We can’t accommodate all our needs out of this building. We haven’t for a while now,” Mr. Fielding says. “In the context of affordability, it’s nothing I will be bringing forward soon; you have to keep the tax rate in check. But I think it’s something that we have to look at down the road.”
Notice the frequency of these types of proposals at budget time? What a slap in the face to taxpayers. Mind you, we get the system we deserve. I suppose hiring fewer city staff is out of the question?
The current City Hall on Dufferin St., built in 1970, has approximately 150,000 sq. ft. of useable space (188,200 sq. ft. total), according to realty services manager Ron Sanderson. It’s not enough. Mr. Sanderson estimates the city currently leases more than 87,000 sq. ft. of office space in locations such as the Market Tower (at Richmond and Dundas) and City Centre (Wellington and Dundas).

The city also has space in the J. Allyn Taylor Building it owns at Wellington and Dundas and is also considering how to use the old Central Library on Queens Ave.

Controller Gord Hume agrees with Mr. Fielding the subject of a new City Hall should be examined.

“It’s time to take a serious look at the future needs of our city departments. We outgrew this City Hall many years ago,” Controller Hume says. “Obviously it’s not something for today. It’s not coming from me any time soon either, but it’s something we should get on our radar screen, even if it’s just a distant blinking light.”
Apparently the cafeteria isn't big enough for Mr. Hume? Council also needs more rooms for their closed door meetings I am sure. If we get a new city hall, does this mean Joyce Burpee would spend more time in London instead of Toronto?
Currently, Mr. Sanderson estimates the city spends approximately $530,000 a year on leased space across the city.

Despite a half-million dollar price tag on yearly rental, Mr. Fielding says it is a cheaper option than building a new City Hall at this time.

“You would need a good business case to go ahead and rebuild a City Hall that had all the necessary space,” Mr. Fielding says. “We would need around 250,000 sq. ft. (of office space) plus parking and that puts you in the $60 million range and that’s a very ballpark guess. You won’t see that coming from me in the near future.”
Only 250,000 sq. ft! Glad to hear that you are being modest with your proposal.
Mr. Fielding says, ideally, he’d like to see a City Hall one day with a floor plate of around 22,000 sq. ft. The existing city hall has just 12,000 sq. ft.

“The central elevator shaft is something we have to work around. Certainly this building has a lot of dead space around that shaft and that creates usability issues,” Mr. Fielding says. “Usability is a big issue, customer service, so is parking. Staffing isn’t the issue. The big issue in my mind is customer service. How you provide your front line service to the public. Ideally you’d like a lower-level building, with more openness, good counter space. This space really isn’t customer service friendly.”
Customer service eh? I would rather have somewhere to park when I go downtown. Council can continue to meet with the sheep at the malls.
Controller Hume agrees. “It’s a terrible design and that can’t be changed. But we have made the best of it. We’ve actually taken hall space and converted it into office space. There’s no question there would be efficiencies having more people under one roof. But again, is it going to happen in the next couple years? No. Should we look at the future, look for innovative solutions to the problem? Yes.”

While building a new City Hall might be one possible solution, leasing an existing or future facility is something both Mr. Fielding and Controller Hume agree could one day be looked at.

[. . . . ]

For Mr. Fielding, and Controller Hume for that matter, one constant would have to be a continued presence in the downtown. “I think that’s a must. People like to know their city owns their City Hall so that would be something to talk about. But as to the location, I think it would have to be in the downtown.”

Any decision on a new City Hall (whether it’s a new build or the purchase of an existing building), Mr. Fielding says, would involve one to two years of discussion before council made its decision and then perhaps another one to two years for designs and contracts to be finalized.

“It’s not a simple process to be sure. These processes can last five to 10 years,” Mr. Fielding says. “Part of any decision would involve putting a value on this building, finding out what that asset would be worth. And then there is always the question of what to do with this building. Obviously, we’re not going to have two city halls. But that would all be a part of the discussion.”


Publius said...

I don't want to sound all arrogant and Torontonian here but why don't you just give it up? I had originally thought maybe you could just be annexed by Mississauga and have done with it. Hazel McCallion maybe ancient but she is also probably immortal. She does have an authoritarian streak, but she also runs the city the way Mussolini could only have dreamed of running the trains. Then I checked my trusty Atlas and discovered, to my shock, that London is closer to Detroit than Mississauga. Honestly I thought it was closer.

This leads me to Plan B. If you are uninclined to simply nuke the city and start over, and if you do go with that option please do so when David Miller is on an official visit, we'd REALLLLYYY appreciate that. Then simply do what Newfoundland did during the Depression, abandon your independence.

Facing bankruptcy the Rock simply gave up its Dominion status and became a regular colony under the Colonial Office. Fifteen years late they joined Canada and we've been footing the bill ever since. So this is my proposal. Declare the city bankrupt, or ungovernable, which ever is more plausible, and let Dalton McGuinty take over.

This may seem at best a lateral move but in less than three years time John Tory, an accomplished business executive if a little too much of a Bill Davis Tory, will be Premier. If worse comes to worse you can live off the rest of the province, heck, its only fair. There is a large section of downtown Toronto, i.e. the area immediately surrounding Queen's Park, that has been doing that since the 19th century.



MapMaster said...

I think of all the options listed above, nuking London and starting over would be probably the best. Annexation by any other city in the province will probably bring only slightly better results. (You echo sentiments heard around this city yourself, Publius.) And we would be happy to oblige including David Miller in the blast, just to help out our neighbours to the north!

Actually, I think it best that we move out of London altogether at some date. Don't we as individuals have the responsibility to ourselves to sell our talents and abilities to the highest bidder, and this means more than just money but also local governments who respect the rights, individual and property, of its citizens?

Someday when I graduate, I hope, but it would be hard to leave the London Fog all the same. In any case, are there jurisdictions anywhere in Canada that do not treat the citizens like sheep?

Best regards to you of the Gods of the Copybook Headings. Keep up the good work! And consider introspection on why you bother to listen to the complaints of Londoners!