New Brunswick

Waterfront development delays questioned by Saint John council

Some members of Saint John city council have raised concerns about the lack of progress on waterfront development and whether taxpayers are getting the best return on the $275,600 budgeted for the Saint John Development Corporation.

Development corporation GM maintains $230M Fundy Quay project is close to deal with unnamed developer

Kent MacIntyre, general manager of the Saint John Development Corporation, said he understands there is 'a level of frustration,' but big projects take time and funding partners. (Brian Chisholm)

Some members of Saint John city council have raised concerns about the lack of progress on waterfront development after years of assurances that a large scale project at the former Coast Guard site is imminent.

They grilled Saint John Development Corporation's general manager Kent MacIntyre during his presentation to council about the Fundy Quay project earlier this week.

Councillor at large Gary Sullivan said he heard a similar presentation and "a lot of optimistic talk" when he previously served on council between 2008 and 2012.

"It's political, but the question is, 'What have you done for us lately?'" he asked.

MacIntyre maintains the organization is close to announcing a $230-million overhaul of the site, as soon as an anchor tenant commits to leasing at least 50,000 square feet.

The vision, which includes 600,000 square feet of mixed hospitality, retail, residential and commercial space, was first floated in 2003.

$275K of city budget

Last year, the corporation received $275,600 from the City of Saint John, along with $25,000 from New Brunswick's Regional Development Corporation and $200,000 from the Canadian government's Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

Back in 2003, SJDC revealed an ambitious plan to generate $700 million in new development on the land adjacent to Saint John's harbour. (CBC)
Sullivan questioned whether the money is being put to the best use, noting there's existing infrastructure that falls under the purview of the corporation that needs work, including the "soon-to-be unusable dock at the Hilton, which requires dredging."

"We've got to maintain the things that we have," he said.

Ward 4 Coun. David Merrithew also suggested taxpayers are not getting a proper return on the investment. He asked MacIntyre whether the corporation's work has resulted in any tax base growth in the past four years.

MacIntrye said the group has worked predominantly on public spacing projects, such as ecological hubs and Harbour Passage. "However the Fundy Quay file, which is a major tax base return, has consumed a lot of time over those last four years."

'Pie in the sky'

Merrithew echoed Sullivan's comments, saying MacIntyre told council four years ago that a deal with a developer was "just around the corner."

"I don't want to be coarse with my language, but this property's been 'pie in the sky' for four years now and we haven't seen it."

Coun. David Merrithew wonders how much longer the SJDC will wait on the unnamed developer before putting the property back on the market. (CBC)
MacIntyre said all indications from the unnamed Canadian out-of-province developer at that time were "he was going to do something rather soon." But engineers found some "challenges" with the site.

"That's when [the developer] backed off and said, 'I want to do big time due diligence before I make that commitment.'" Further engineering, geotechnical and environmental studies were completed about nine or 10 months ago and "now the thrust has been securing an anchor tenant," said MacIntyre.

Suffice to say we're not prepared at this point in time to step away from this developer because there's very good progress at this time.- Kent MacIntyre, Saint John Development Corporation

Merrithew wasn't satisfied. "Here we sit four years later and the property hasn't moved and we haven't marketed it again; it's kind of like … you've given the guy a free option on this lease," he said. "If he doesn't want to do it, why don't we market it to somebody else?"

MacIntyre said he understands "there is a level of frustration," but stressed big projects take time and funding partners. He described the developer in question as "very credible," "top quality," and "diligent."

"Suffice to say we're not prepared at this point in time to step away from this developer because there's very good progress at this time."

"I don't know that we're going in the right direction here," said Merrithew. "I don't know that we're getting, in my humble opinion, what I want from my money."

The Saint John Development Corporation Board is made up of seven members: five are appointed by Saint John's Common Council, one is appointed by the province and one is appointed by the federal government.

The mayor of Saint John, Don Darling, and city manager Jeff Trail are ex officio members. 

With files from Information Morning