By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Imagine Chatham-Kent has taken a cautious step forward.
At its Aug. 8 meeting, Chatham-Kent council voted to allocate $2-million towards the “due diligence” aspect of an ambitious plan to repurpose the Downtown Chatham Centre into an expansive civic centre complex, a state-of-the-art arena/entertainment centre, a revamped King Street streetscape and future private investment that could include housing or possibly a new hotel.
Council also moved to designate Imagine Chatham-Kent as a priority project for the municipality in alignment with its strategic goals.
All told the estimate for the entire project is between $115-million to $125-million. Phase 1 is estimated at $53-million, Phase II is ballparked at between $60-million to $70-million, with Phase III having no cost to taxpayers.
The plan, conceived by a group of established community partners, would see construction undertaken by the private investors with ownership of the buildings to eventually be turned over to the municipality.
Although most members of council are in support of the project, many expressed concern that every angle be examined as part of the due diligence process.
However, some wanted to see the plan referred to the next elected council, but a motion to do so by East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault was defeated.
As described in an administrative report, the development is broken down into three phases. The first phase includes the redevelopment of the old Sears building into a facility able to house the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre, the Chatham-Kent Public Library, as well as the Chatham Cultural Centre’s Museum and Art Gallery.
Phase II includes the construction of the entertainment complex on the DCC footprint as well as the commercial redevelopment of the King Street streetscape.
Phase III will be entirely retained for private development.
The report states that the municipality would be responsible for all costs associated with the development, acquisitions and ongoing operation of all facilities and structures that will fall under municipal ownership.
Other recommendations regarding Imagine Chatham-Kent were also approved, including:
- a certified appraisal and engineering report be carried out where relevant for the portions of the DCC property that is to be transferred to municipal ownership;
- the retention of a qualified and independent firm through a Request for Proposal to lead further public consultation, feasibility, financial review and report on the final scope with recommended next steps to go to council;
- the retention of external legal counsel to map put the development agreement between the community partners who own the mall for approval by council; and
- authorization of the CAO to execute any operational
agreement related to the due diligence process that are approved by the municipality’s legal department.
When questioned by South Kent Coun. Clare Latimer about a timeline for the due diligence process, project lead Bruce McAllister said an RFP would go out immediately with possible hires to come back to council by October.
McAllister, general manager of community development for Chatham-Kent, told council the independent firm will oversee Phase 1 and Phase II concurrently, “when appropriate,” reporting back to council on the first phase in February 2023 and the second phase in March or April of next year.
Funding for the due diligence process will come from lifecycle reserves.