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Red Storey Field, Bradford St. land surplus?

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

The way could be cleared to swap city property to HIP Development for W. A. Fisher Auditorium and a new YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka site at the old Barrie Central Collegiate land along Dunlop Street West. MARK WANZEL photo

The way could be cleared to swap city property to HIP Development for W. A. Fisher Auditorium and a new YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka site at the old Barrie Central Collegiate land along Dunlop Street West. MARK WANZEL photo

Plans for the former Barrie Central Collegiate's future redevelopment are ready to bear fruit.

Councillors will consider a motion Monday to declare Red Storey Field and four Bradford Street properties surplus to the city's needs, clearing the way to swap this property to HIP Development for W. A. Fisher Auditorium and a new YMCA of Simcoe-Muskoka site at the old high school property along Dunlop Street West.

During the same meeting, councillors will consider rezoning the YMCA's Grove Street property so it can be redeveloped as residential high-rises and townhouses, with the land sale proceeds helping pay for the new Y.

“I would say first of all that it's clear from the (staff) report that the pieces are coming together,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said of the downtown Barrie properties. “There is some urgency as I believe HIP is seeking clarity so they can move forward with development, and certainly the YMCA is seeking clarity so they can get moving on planning a new facility.”

All of these decisions are contingent upon council approving the business case, operational and funding model - due next month - for the Fisher project, which is also to be an events or convention centre in the downtown.

With the Fisher project carrying a $19.3-million price, Coun. Mike McCann said the surplus land motion might be premature.

“It's putting a lot more leverage and a lot more pressure, on council and staff to move forward when ... we haven't decided what we're doing in the future,” he said, referring to Fisher.

The Ward 10 councillor said he's unsure what sort of time lines HIP Development, which owns the Barrie Central site, is working with for the land swap – about 4.5 acres to HIP, about four acres to the city.

But the city should be negotiating exclusively with HIP for Red Storey Field and the four Bradford Street properties, staff say.

McCann said this might be premature too.

“I'd hope that other opportunities would not be shied away (from) because city staff and city council have already made their minds up before we get the business plan,” he said.

But Lehman said he thinks city staff are taking the right approach to this matter by taking it one step at a time.

“Monday's motion would be another major step forward, but there will be further decisions to be made before the (Fisher) project proceeds both with regards to the terms of a land swap and arrangement with the YMCA, and ... the operating model for Fisher,” he said.

But the mayor also said time is pressing, that council should make these decisions by year's end.

“Given the Fisher project was only conceived of a few months ago, I think it's actually moving very quickly,” Lehman said. “And I would note the public support is overwhelming, based on the emails, online reaction and the calls that have come to my office.”

The Fisher Auditorium and Events Centre would be a 650-seat-plus, multi-purpose cultural and events facility, with capacity to host larger conferences and corporate events – for 1,100 people standing and 450 seated - at the former high-school site.

The YMCA wants to build a new 50,000-square-foot facility that could be used for 5,000-6,000 members (its membership now is 3,000), and to expand its services, near the corner of High and Dunlop streets.

But the Y would prefer a low-to-no-cost land arrangement for its new facility, so the city would lease this property to the YMCA and maintain ownership.

HIP has said the former Barrie Central and Prince of Wales school properties, which it also owns, are to be a residential project called Modern Bayside Residences.

Last April, the Waterloo-based developer bought this property for $5.8 million from the Simcoe County District School Board.

A new Fisher Auditorium would replace Georgian Theatre, so existing funding and staffing could move to the new facility; its operating costs are estimated at $50,000 annually, roughly what the city spends on Georgian Theatre.

Barrie's Mady Centre for the Performing Arts (Five Points) theatre was designed as an 'incubator', for use by community groups and for innovative local groups like Talk is Free Theatre and Theatre By the Bay, to grow their audiences.

Monday's motion to declare Red Fisher Field and 34, 36, 38 and 40 Bradford St. surplus to the city's needs also includes information on a Kidd's Creek drainage solution for the former Barrie Central property, parking and road networks.

The staff report councillors will see in Novembers will not include a business case, operational and funding model, but an updated design for Fisher, budget and an analysis of how it will compete in the theatre/convention centre marketplace.

The entire site is about 12.5 acres in size.