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Bid for Auchmar has been a weird, tiring process, bidder says

City councillors voted Wednesday to put the historic mansion on the market. But one of the bidders so far, Jeremy Freiburger, says it's been a long, weird process.

City councillors voted Wednesday to put the historic mansion on the market

The city is putting Auchmar Mansion, shown during renovations last year, on the market.

To hear Jeremy Freiburger tell it, it would be a jewel on the Mountain — an Auchmar Mansion that merges heritage with cuisine, and an event space with artists' lofts.

But slowly, his vision seems to be fading — or at least getting more confusing.

Freiburger is the head of Cobalt Connects, a local non-profit that connects creative people with resources. The agency planned to join forces with the restaurateurs behind Rapscallion and Two Black Sheep, plus a Toronto-based heritage developer to help with the funding. 

It's the Dundurn of the Mountain.- Coun. Terry Whitehead

The goal: turn Auchmar into a multi-use heritage facility that includes artist exhibition space, a coach house restaurant and live/work artist studios, among other amenities.

On Wednesday, that vision slipped a little farther away as part of a process that Freiburger says has been confusing and disheartening. City councillors voted to put the mansion on the real estate market.

It all began when city staff issued a request for proposals in the fall. There were two bidders — Freiburger's group and the Friends of Auchmar — but only Freiburger's group submitted it on time. The Friends of Auchmar submitted theirs late, but the city ruled to accept it anyway. In the end, the city deemed both bidders unacceptable.

Jeremy Frieburger of Cobalt Connects says the attempt to win a bid for Auchmar was a "weird" process. (Supplied)

When the city evaluated his group's proposal from the fall, it scored it at 9/35. Its reasons, Freiburger said, included missing details such as how it would care for the grass or light the area, and more on how it would fund the project. Freiburger says he could have easily provided these details if he'd had a chance to discuss it with the city. But he never had the chance.

This is by far the strangest process I've ever been a part of.- Jeremy Freiburger

He watched the debate Wednesday from the last row of the gallery, occasionally shaking his head. The group will still discuss buying the property, he said, but he's not sure what it will decide.

He still has hope for the partnership, which would have included Willowbank and the Royal Botanical Gardens.

"The reality is that Cobalt has developed four buildings in this city now, and played a role in helping facilities get on their feet," he said. "Cobalt is the entity at the table right now that has the experience to run this thing."

Last year, a secret bidder wanted to buy Auchmar and negotiate behind closed doors. But councillors voted down those negotiations. That bidder is still interested, said city manager Chris Murray.

Once council ratifies the decision next week, staff will appraise the property and negotiate with suitable bidders.

Whoever they pick, it will go back to council for a vote, said Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8. It could go to Freiburger's group, or the Friends of Auchmar, or the secret bidder, or some other party. It might even stay in city hands, which is his preference.

"That's where I'm leaning, absolutely," he said. "It's the Dundurn of the Mountain."

Whatever happens, Freiburger said, the experience has been "very weird."

"We probably go through 10 or 15 RFP processes a year, on either side of the table," he said. "This is by far the strangest process I've ever been a part of."

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