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Council rejects Spark Centre request for $90,000

Organization was seeking city’s assistance to offset increased rent costs

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

City council soundly declined a request from the Spark Centre for funding to offset increased rent costs.

Sherry Colborne, president and CEO of the centre, made the request for a ‘supplemental investment’ of $30,000 annually over three years.

Councillors voted against the request, with Ward 4 regional councillor Rick Kerr as the lone dissenting voter.

The Spark Centre recently moved its operations to 2 Simcoe Street South.

“We’ve grown out of our space at Core21 [a shared office space at 21 Simcoe Street South],” Colborne explained.

Moving to the new location offers a number of advantages to the organization.

“To create a much more expanded innovation centre really requires us to have a lot of stakeholders,” she said. “Core21 did not allow us to practice that model. Moving to 2 Simcoe actually allows us to do just this.”

Without assistance from the city, Colborne said they would need to find new partnerships to cover the increased costs.

She explained because a lot of their clients at Core21 are start-up groups, they do not charge them full-market rent.

Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey said she had some apprehension with the request because there are many “core services” the city needs to fund as well.

The Spark Centre’s operating budget is around $1.1 million per year.

It receives $500,000 from the province and $150,000 from Durham Region.

“The balance comes from more event-driven sponsorship,” Colborne says.

On top of that is occasional municipal funding.

In the future, Colborne said her hope is to approach governments “for much more expanded funding to support the expanded innovation hub.”

By receiving support on the local and regional level, she maintains it will improve the viability of the Spark Centre to the provincial and federal governments.

While their services and programs are available to clients across Durham and Northumberland County, Colborne said the Spark Centre serves Oshawa the most.

“It’s really the City of Oshawa’s community we are benefiting because of the physical location,” she says.

However, her logic didn’t convince Ward 3 regional councillor Bob Chapman.

“The main reasoning I picked up why [council should provide funding] is because it’s located in Oshawa. I think there should have been more thought when they were doing this,” Chapman said. “There’s lots of other things we can spend that money on.”

Ward 5 councillor Brian Nicholson believes the Spark Centre didn’t show council they’d taken “concrete steps to raise the funds in other ways.”

Additionally, Nicholson said the organization has a wholesome level of reserve funds.

“I can’t justify to the taxpayers to reach into their pockets for $90,000 simply to allow an organization to maintain the surplus in their budget,” Nicholson said. “We wouldn’t do that for any other organization that came in here.”

As the lone supporter of the request, Kerr said the Spark Centre is rapidly developing.

He said its success would give the city more leverage and perhaps a “better deal” in obtaining the former Canada Post distribution building in downtown for the proposed D-Hive project.

“We have to do whatever we can to stimulate new business and keep our economy going,” Kerr said. “We ought to support this for all it’s worth, and really, it’s only $30,000 [per year].”