Moncton votes on land deal for downtown centre

Moncton councillors will be voting on Monday night on whether to purchase the former Highfield Square property and build the proposed $105-million sports and entertainment complex.

Costs for the former Highfield Square property have jumped to $12M from $6M

Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc said he will be supporting a motion to purchase the former Highfield Square property. (CBC)

Moncton’s proposed $105-million downtown sports and entertainment complex is facing a key hurdle on Monday night as city councillors must vote to approve the purchase of the former Highfield Square property.

The city paid $25,000 to buy an option on the land in 2012 that allowed it time to study the possibility of building a downtown sports and entertainment centre on the site.

When the city bought the option, the land deal was pegged at $6 million. But the overall cost has already doubled, according to Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc.

"That's a little bit more complicated than you would think because there's an adjustment formula there based on investment rates but we have set aside for the purchase and environmental clean-up of the land $10 [million] to $12 million," he said.

The proposed downtown sports and entertainment complex is expected to cost $105 million. (CBC)

The soil on the property is contaminated with heavy metals and hydrocarbons, according to a report drafted by the city. And the groundwater has zinc, cadmium, aluminum, iron and chloride levels, which are also above acceptable limits.

There have been repeated concerns raised about whether the project can actually stick to its estimated costs.

Moncton councillors Daniel Bourgeois and Brian Hicks have each raised questions about whether moving forward with the downtown centre is the best option for the city.

Bourgeois said he thinks the centre could end up costing the city $165 million based on the cost overruns of other major infrastructure projects in the city.

Moncton councillors hired an accountant in 2010 to conduct a series of investigations into what went wrong on a series of projects.

Three reports have been completed by Bernard Leblanc, but the city has kept those studies secret. Jacques Dubé, the city manager, said last week one of the reports outlining overspending at the University of Moncton stadium should be released in the next two months.

The cost of the downtown events centre has been an important subject for the city as it is hoping to attract federal and provincial funding for the project.

However, P3 Canada, a federal Crown corporation, rejected a funding application in 2011 from the city for the centre.

Moncton’s mayor said the future of the project rests on Monday night’s vote.

Coun. Brian Hicks is one of the Moncton politicians who has been raising questions about the decision to push forward with the downtown events centre. (CBC)

"If council decides not to proceed with the purchase of the land then I think the project is over frankly," LeBlanc said.

"You can't build a downtown centre unless we have the land just as you can't build a home if you don't have the land."

LeBlanc said he will be supporting the purchase of the land.

If the motion is approved, LeBlanc said there are still several steps to go in the process before work starts on the centre.

There will also be a motion to give city staff approval to go ahead with requests for proposal for the project.

"Request for proposals is where the companies come to us with a completely detailed proposal on how they would build a new downtown centre, including everything that will go with it, investment that they might put into the project and of course construction of the downtown centre," LeBlanc said.

Three companies are already interested in building the new facility.

EllisDon, known for Toronto's Rogers Centre, Bird Construction, responsible for the Thunderbird Sports Centre, built for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, and L'Aréna des Canadiens Inc.'s Evenko, which built the Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, have expressed an interest in developing the centre.

Moncton has also received design concepts for the facility from four architects. All of the renderings, which were released in 2012, featured a 10,000-seat arena and a convention centre, as well as a shopping centre, restaurants, condos and an outdoor space.