City council has put off a vote on a land deal to help McMaster University expand its presence in Hamilton’s downtown, seeking more information about the university's plans. 

Council was poised to pass a motion Friday that appeared to commit the city to providing land for a new building of at least 70,000 square feet to house as many as 10,000 McMaster students over 20 years. McMaster needs the agreement by Sept. 26 to apply for provincial support of the expansion.

Some councillors wanted to push a decision at Friday’s meeting, saying McMaster is running out of time on a project that will benefit the downtown core.

But others balked at the idea, saying they knew little about the negotiations or what they entailed, and that the motion was sprung on them

It appears to offer up a piece of downtown city property to McMaster with few strings attached, they said, or to lock the city into acting as a mediator in a third-party negotiation.

“This is a serious matter because we don’t know what the actual cost would be,” said Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek. “We don’t know what the plans are. We don’t have anything.”

McMaster will come to a general issues committee meeting on Sept. 4 to give a full presentation on what it wants. That should still leave enough time to meet the deadline, president Patrick Deane said.

McMaster needs to partner with the city on a downtown land deal for financial reasons, said Andrea Farquhar, assistant vice-president of public and government relations.

Coun. Jason Farr of Ward 2, which includes the downtown, said he doubts offering up land would cost the city much.

“Worst case scenario, we’d use a surplus parking lot that we’re losing $20,000 a year on,” he said. “We’re just making a little bit for our taxpayers on some of our surface parking lots.

“This isn’t about a great big burden to the taxpayers of Hamilton. This is about a partnership to bring tremendous growth and vitality to our burgeoning core.”

McMaster is already building a new health centre on Main Street East.

And it is putting its downtown offices and continuing education programs to the east side of Jackson Square, moving 200 staff and 4,000  students there before the end of the year. 

But it wants more space for community use and outreach, Farquhar said. That could include in health education, rehabilitation sciences, technology and data management or social work.

The university hopes to answer a provincial call for expansion proposals, which will see Ontario add as many as 60,000 student spaces across the province. It's likely McMaster's last chance for a project of this scale for the new few years, Deane said.

McMaster wants to add space downtown for 1,000 students in the short term, groing to as many as 10,000 over the next 20 years.

City manager Chris Murray first met with McMaster officials on this issue on July 22, city spokesperson Mike Kirkopoulos said.