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People take in the sun at Sugar Beach in Toronto in this 2012 file photo. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
People take in the sun at Sugar Beach in Toronto in this 2012 file photo. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Councillor criticizes Waterfront Toronto for $12,000 umbrellas Add to ...

Waterfront Toronto spent $11,565 for each of the 36 pink umbrellas that dot Sugar Beach and another $529,800 for the lakeside park’s large candy-striped rocks – money spent without public scrutiny by an agency that is running out of cash, says the Toronto councillor who unearthed the spending details.

Globe and Mail Update Jun. 26 2014, 10:54 AM EDT

Video: Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong criticizes Waterfront Toronto for $12,000 umbrellas

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Denzil Minnan-Wong, a frequent critic of the agency created to develop the city’s shoreline, says it needs to be more accountable for how it spends its money and questions whether it has outlived its purpose now that the original investments from the federal and provincial governments are all but gone.

A report released this week by city staff shows Waterfront Toronto will run out of money in three years. The agency, which was established in 2003 with $500-million in funding from each of the federal, provincial and municipal governments has about $17-million left in provincial funding and $170-million in city money. Faced with a looming budget shortfall, the agency wants the three governments to which it reports to give it the authority to finance its operations and future developments with debt.

Waterfront Toronto’s defenders point to its track record as evidence that it should continue to oversee major development projects, such as the Port Lands. They also point to the failed attempt by Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, to take over development of the Port Lands with a proposal that included a large mall and Ferris wheel as proof that the arm’s-length agency is needed.

Mr. Minnan-Wong, a member of the city’s executive committee that will consider the staff report next week, has another option, arguing that if the provincial and federal governments are no longer funding partners, there is no need for a separate agency, especially one that is not covered by access-to-information legislation and other rules for disclosure.

“We should be able to build great things at reasonable prices. And I believe the public would say $12,000 for an umbrella is an unreasonable price and half a million dollars for a couple of rocks is too much,” Mr. Minnan-Wong said during a tour of the East Bayfront.

Information provided to the councillor by Waterfront Toronto at the request of city staff shows that the agency spent a total of $416,340 for the park’s trademark umbrellas, including their installation in concrete bases and their LED lighting.

A nearby large rock – one of two in the park – also serves as “amphitheatre seating” for events, according to an e-mail from Waterfront Toronto to the city in response to the councillor’s questions.

The total cost of the park was $14.2-million, the e-mail said.

Across the street from Sugar Beach at Sherbourne Common, the zinc cladding on the pavilion cost $470,000, according to the Waterfront Toronto e-mail, sent by chief operating officer David Kusturin. The total cost of that park was $28.5-million, it states.

“The zinc cladding is expected to have a 100-year lifespan and should not require any maintenance thereby reducing the annual operating costs to the park,” states the e-mail, written in September.

But what the designers of the award-winning park did not count on was the possibility of flying pucks from the nearby skating rink. The side of the building that faces the rink is cracked and broken, with telltale black circles, clear evidence of what did the damage.

Officials from Waterfront Toronto were not available to comment, but spokesman Andrew Hilton said the value of the two parks goes beyond the price of umbrellas. The effect the waterfront improvements have had on the whole area must also be considered.

“The other side of cost is value,” he said. “I think the park is providing excellent value for the city.”

Mr. Hilton pointed out that Sugar Beach is a favourite spot for events, generating permit fees for the city and bringing people to use the waterfront.

As for the damaged pavilion, he said it is the city’s responsibility as the operator of the park to repair it.

“It was not designed for hockey,” he said of the small rink and pavilion. “We are disappointed that it is damaged.”

An estimate of repair costs was not available from the city.

Mr. Minnan-Wong said he is not saying that Sugar Beach is a waste of money, or that the waterfront should not be developed. But he emphasized that he was only able to get the detailed cost information because he is a member of council.

“The disclosure and transparency of any organization that is spending billions of dollars has to be more transparent.”

Mr. Hilton countered that the agency is audited and provides all levels of government, including the city, with “a rough breakdown of costs,” before any project goes to tender.

“We are not hiding in some black hole,” he said.

 

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