A city agency spent more than $50,000 on two single-sourced architectural contracts in its ill-fated push to overhaul plans for 1,000 acres of dormant lakeshore property – a scheme championed by Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, City Hall’s most prominent crusaders against non-competitive purchasing.
Both plans came to naught, collapsing in the face of a critical backlash. But a few ideas contained within them – including the controversial Ferris wheel, monorail and megamall – could be resurrected as Waterfront Toronto kick-starts new development plans for the area.
The Toronto Port Lands Co., a city-owned corporation, paid $25,000 to U.K.-based CityArts and $30,510 to Toronto-based Sweeny Sterling Finlayson & Co. for their work, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through an access to information request.
Under the agency’s guidelines, purchases of $25,000 or under don’t require board or city approval. Even so, Councillor Ford has fixated on the issue and frequently condemned the city’s sole-sourcing habits – on everything from streetcars to soft drinks in community centres to food contracts in seniors homes. Rob Ford ran for mayor on a promise to mandate competitive bids for “all city purchases and contracts,” according to his campaign literature.
Councillor Ford said the Port Lands contracts were awarded “according to the rules.” Asked if there was a discrepancy between his anti-sole-source rhetoric and his backing of sole-source waterfront proposals, he said “it all depends” before referring all further questions to Michael Kraljevic, president and CEO of Toronto Port Lands.
“There are circumstances when sole-sourcing is acceptable,” Mr. Kraljevic told The Globe. Both CivicArts principal Eric Kuhne and Sweeny Sterling Finlayson & Co. partner Mark Sterling offered skills unmatched elsewhere, he added.
“Mark has unique knowledge of the history and development of the port lands, likely unparalleled in Toronto ... Eric Kuhne has vast international experience in major international port projects. He seemed a good choice there.”
It was Mr. Kuhne’s presentation to a September meeting of the executive committee that stirred public outcry over the new Port Lands plan, eventually forcing the Fords to pull their support. In addition to the now-infamous monorail, his vision included a revamped Hearn generating station topped with an observation deck where the smokestack now stands, an “emerald necklace” of parks linking existing green space and playing fields in the area, new moorings for yachts and several high-rise developments.
Over all, the plans would have wrested control of the future of the site from Waterfront Toronto, a tri-government agency, and placed it squarely in the hands of Toronto Port Lands. The scheme passed at executive, but support caved at City Council after the Fords realized they couldn’t overcome their critics.
“It is a shame that it became such a political football,” said Mr. Kuhne. “But there are no regrets. It’s the nature of how these things work. Long after the character assassinations and political eruptions die away, the ideas endure.”
Known for massive developments in Kuwait, Dubai and England, Mr. Kuhne said his work went well in excess of $25,000 bill, the remainder completed pro bono.
“We did a lot of this work as a gift to the city,” he said. “We worked on a lot of this hoping it would evolve into something bigger.”
Learning the cost of the architectural work, Councillor Adam Vaughan called it a “total waste of money.”
Maybe if there had been a competitive bid program, they’d have found out how crazy their idea was,” Mr. Vaughan said. “They got $50,000 and the city received nothing in return but a second-rate slideshow.”
The Ford vision is far from dead. Waterfront Toronto is currently working with the City of Toronto on speeding up redevelopment in the area. Much of that work will focus on a $634-million plan to naturalize the Don River and generate more construction ideas for the patch of land that stretches from the inner harbour to Leslie Street south of Lakeshore Boulevard. The existing plan calls for a mixed-use residential neighbourhood and ample green space.
Late last month, Waterfront Toronto head John Campbell said the agency could move to building more of a commercial development or even a tourist destination.
The agency will hold a public meeting to explain its Port Lands plan on Monday.