Budget cuts to St. John's trails called 'a stab in the back' of Grand Concourse founder

A non-profit group that developed an acclaimed network of walking trails through St. John's says the institution and its work are jeopardized by new budget cuts.

Mayor Dennis O'Keefe calls for Addison Bown to resign

During Monday evening's council meeting, St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe called on Addison Bown to resign over his criticism of council's decision to decrease the Grand Concourse Authority's maintenance budget. (CBC)

A non-profit group that has developed an acclaimed network of walking trails and green spaces through St. John's says the institution and its work are jeopardized by new budget cuts.

"I think it's a stab in the back to Paul Johnson," said the executive officer of the Grand Concourse Authority, Addison Bown.

"If he weren't cremated, I'd say he's turning over in his grave," Bown said in an interview.

Johnson, a philanthropist who spent $50 million on the Grand Concourse and its projects, died in October.

Now his legacy is in jeopardy, according to Bown.

The Grand Concourse Authority believes future maintenance work on walking trails, like ones at Rennies River, will not be up to current standards.

"What a disgrace," he told CBC's On the Go Monday. "What you're doing to the Grand Concourse Authority is brutal."

Bown said the group had almost no notice of a $390,000 cut by the city of St. John's in its 2016 budget — a cut that amounts to 43 percent of the organization's maintenance budget.

"We were advised that there may be further cuts which could lead to the demise of the Grand Concourse," said Bown.

Johnson's son, David, also issued a statement Monday saying he is "shocked and dismayed' by council's decision.

"Garbage, graffiti, vandalism, decaying bridges and rotting rest areas," are what he predicted will happen with a cut in funding.

"The city must recognize that maintenance is far less expensive than rebuilding after neglect."

Breach of contract alleged

The cuts took effect Jan. 1, with the city saying it will use its own staff to maintain trails, or contract out the work.

Trails affected include Kent's Pond and Long Pond, as well as monuments like the Tommy Ricketts Memorial and the Artillery Site in Quidi Vidi.

Budget cuts also affect buildings like the Plantation in Quidi Vidi. (CBC)

Several "parkettes" such as Ilhavo Park on Plymouth Road and facilities including the Shea Heights Community Centre are also on the list.

Because the authority has a contract that runs to April 2016, the group is seeking legal advice.

In Monday's meeting of city council, Mayor Dennis O'Keefe lashed back at Bown, calling on him to resign.

O'Keefe said everyone was aware of changes coming to the budget of the Grand Concourse Authority, and had known for two years.

​Bown, who said the mayor cancelled a meeting with him last Thursday, alleged the city is being pressured by private companies to put work now done by the Grand Concourse Authority up for public tender.

He said that route, along with using the city's own staff, has been tried before and failed.

"Everything fell by the wayside," he said.

Damper on donations

The group said the lack of notice leaves little time to look for other sources of funding. It also warned that the city's actions may put a damper on the enthusiasm of future benefactors.

Bidgood Park in the Goulds was built by the Grand Concourse Authority in 2014, after a donation of land and money. (CBC)

"I think if the Bidgoods had known this was going to happen, there would be no Bidgood Park," he said, referring to a donation of $300,000 and 36 acres of land in Goulds.

Since its launch in 1994, the authority has built 160 kilometres of walking trails, along with several parks and monuments from Signal Hill to Conception Bay South.

The Johnson Family Foundation also leveraged provincial and federal money to launch the Geo Centre and the Railway Coastal Museum.


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