City begins public consultation on The Square

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The City of Airdrie and the Board of Airdrie Main Street Square (AMSQ) held the first public consultation on a proposed major downtown redevelopment – known as The Square – when an open house was held Sept. 27 at City Hall.

The open house was planned after City council approved a motion at its Sept. 19 meeting to delay making a decision on The Square until at least January 2017.

“But that’s just a placemaker right now. If it takes until April to figure this out, we’ll be in April. There’s no set in stone (date),” Mayor Peter Brown said at the open house.

AMSQ was originally going to make a presentation at the Oct. 3 council meeting, however, public outcry after an invitation-only event Sept. 8 to introduce the plan to certain stakeholders prompted a change in those plans.

Approximately 75 people turned up for the open house Sept. 27 and had a chance to ask City staff and AMSQ board members questions about the project.

Many of the questions were about the cost of the project, estimated by consultants Ernst & Young Orenda Corporate Finance Inc. to be $83 million for construction, not including below ground servicing costs or leasehold improvements.

“The (Ernst & Young) report has done that high level construction costing of what it’s going to cost,” said Lucy Wiwcharuk, director of Corporate Services.

According to Wiwcharuk, AMSQ has spent $232,000 to date to contract Ernst & Young, O2 Planning and architects Nyhoff Architecture to complete conceptual drawings, a master plan and high level financial cost analysis.

An additional $178,000 has been charged back to AMSQ for City staff time spent working on AMSQ business, according to Wiwcharuk.

More than 110 questions have been submitted to the City and AMSQ about the project and Brown said answers are being provided as quickly as possible and posted to a website, thesquareairdrie.com

Two requests for information including the AMSQ board minutes, entire Ernst & Young report and AMSQ financial statements under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) have been received by the City and AMSQ, according to Sharon Pollyck, manager of Legislative Services.

Although Pollyck said she couldn’t specifically speak about this request because of privacy issues, she did say the Act allowed the City to charge the applicant $27 per hour to retrieve, compile, redact and photocopy the requested information. In this case, a quote of approximately $17,000 has been given to the applicant because of the volume of documents – in excess of 60,000 pages – staff will need to manually go through to fulfill the request.

“You’re into hours of time for us to process this information,” she said. “We have to go and ask everyone in the organization if they have any documents relating to this request. We have never, at the City of Airdrie, had a FOIP request of this magnitude.”

Pollyck said she wasn’t sure if waiving the fee for the FOIP request was possible or if it “was in the best interest of the taxpayer.”

Pollyck said discussions are continuing between the City and the applicant to refine the request.

Questions about releasing the minutes from AMSQ board meetings were also raised. Pollyck said the AMSQ board would need to approve releasing that information. As well, those minutes would need to be reviewed page by page and confidential information regarding current tenants redacted.

“We have an obligation to protect those tenants’ privacy,” Pollyck said.

A date for the next round of public consultation has not been released.

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