There has been strong reaction in the community against the offer from SmartCentre of a Section 37 community benefit payment of $500,000 towards the Leaside arena expansion.
Councillor John Parker replied to a letter from a Leaside resident asking why the donation was made public only after the Toronto planning department approved the SmartCentre proposal.
Here is his reply:
The applicant has been well aware of the arena expansion project and my support of it for a number of years. He has also made me aware of his own enthusiasm for it. He demonstrated that support concretely about two years ago.
Early in the application process the arena board chair asked me to do what I could to arrange for s37 funds to be directed towards the arena project. This dovetailed nicely with what I already knew to be of interest to the applicant, the community, and the city.
More recently, planning staff asked me for my priorities for any s37 funds available in connection with the development project. I was specifically asked if I wanted to apply it towards public art, as many councillors do. I indicated that I had no wish at all to direct funds towards public art but that I would readily support funding for:
— Construction of a landscaped centre median on Laird Dr. at the bottom end of Parkhurst;
— the arena expansion project; and
— local heritage research related to Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act.
City planning staff then negotiated the proposal that is included in the report.
The total value exceeds $800,000. This is a sizable contribution. The applicant’s staff tell me – and I have no doubt – that the magnitude of the contribution is a reflection of the applicant’s personal enthusiasm for the arena project. It is unlikely that a figure of that magnitude could have readily been agreed upon if any other use had been involved.
Independent of all of the above I am aware that the applicant is talking directly to the arena board about a possible donation that would be in addition to the s37 award. That initiative will lead to a result to be determined by those parties in accordance with their own negotiations.
An example of community reaction is this excerpt from a letter by Geordon Ferguson, Parkhurst Blvd., to the North York community council opposing the latest application by SmartCentre:
ln regards to the “donation” to the community arena, I spend countless hours at the arena volunteering my time to coach the local kids hockey teams and also teach the younger children in hockey school, and as someone whose family will certainly benefit from the new ice pad I strongly feel this is an inappropriate offer given the resistance to the existing proposal by the community. The community never asked for it and I suspect that if you were to poll the community you would find the vast majority would also feel this is inappropriate.