By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton politicians have put the brakes on a proposal by McMaster University to assist the school in acquiring land within the downtown.
Ward 2 councillor Jason Farr introduced a motion at the Aug. 15 council meeting that would have committed the city in helping to provide land for up to a 10,000-student facility. Contained in the motion was an undeclared financial commitment from the city which politicians balked at supporting.
“I have trouble with this,” said Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson. “I don’t understand it.”
The school is applying for provincial funding for a new facility that would accommodate initially about 1,000 students, but would eventually grow to up to 10,000 students over 20 years. The university is competing against 27 other educational institutions for the pot of money.
University officials, including President Patrick Deane, who watched the debate in the council gallery during the meeting, said they are under pressure to submit their application to the provincial government by Sept. 27.
“This is the last opportunity for the province to inject some investment into downtownHamiltonfor a long time,” said Deane, after councillors delayed voting on the agreement until early September.
Fergusonquestioned whetherHamilton’s downtown even needs further economic investment. He said the core has seen a number of high profile residential and commercial developments that have helped to revitalize the formerly downtrodden area, including McMaster’s $84-million new health campus that is expected to be completed later this year on the former Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board land. The city contributed $20 million to the cost of the campus.
McMaster also recently asked the city for land and funding totaling about $4 million as part of a deal to attract a German bio-tech company, Fraunhofer Institute, to the city to create a research hub at the university’sInnovationPark.
Politicians, including Mayor Bob Bratina, were upset there was little information provided to them about the proposed agreement.
Bratina said he discovered from the media McMaster officials have had discussions with city officials “for months,” which left him surprised.
“As mayor of the city ofHamilton, I’m non plussed,” he said. “There is a need to have formal discussions.”
City manager Chris Murray did meet with university officials last month.
Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark said there is no documentation explaining how much money the city will be committing to McMaster University.
“It’s was dropped on us without any information,” he said. “We knew nothing about this.”
Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge chided university officials for, yet again, catching councillors off guard with funding requests.
“Stop blindsiding us,” she said. “Allow us to do our do diligence.”
Under pressure from his colleagues, Farr withdrew his motion, which he is expected to re-introduce at the Sept. 4 general issues committee meeting for further discussion.
“I didn’t want to pull a fast one,” said Farr. “This is a ward issue.”
Deane said the university has been under a tight time schedule itself, and understood politicians’ reasons for slowing down the process.
“We will do the best we can (to meet the deadline),” he said.