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Marina proposals wanted millions

Search for marina operator not a total loss, city manager says

A ship sits docked against the Oshawa Harbour. Until recently, the city had plans to find an operator for a public marina that would share the waters with these freighters. However, those plans have fallen through as city staff note that potential operators were asking for too much money and land to support their marina operations. (Photo by Joel Wittnebel)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

More details are coming to light after the city announced the sudden cancellation of a pair of proposals to develop a public marina at the Oshawa waterfront.

The decision came down in February following council’s receipt of a confidential report that was dealt with in closed session.

Speaking previously to The Oshawa Express, Mayor John Henry noted that the cancellation was a “disappointment” and added that the reason behind the cancellation was simply due to the fact that “the ask was too big.”

Now, city manager Jag Sharma and Paul Ralph, the city’s commissioner of development services, have confirmed that the proposals that came forward for the marina were looking for “mult-million” dollar assistance from the city to help make the project happen, along with portions of land adjacent to the waterfront “that was not originally contemplated for the RFP process.”

“The size of their asks in terms of support from the city was significant,” Sharma says.

“We don’t think that most taxpayers would have wanted council to accept the proposals given the significant asks of the city,” Ralph adds.

Looking back, the process that led to this point began in December of 2015 when it was announced that the city would be issuing its first Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEOI), which would be sent out to industry stakeholders to gauge interest in developing an Oshawa marina. At that time, the city hired a consultant to assist in the proper wording for the request.

That request was sent out in the spring of 2016. However, like a fishing line cast into a puddle, the request met with limited response, and of the two interested responses that came back, one was not compliant with the city’s terms. That process was later maligned by another consultant who said the city not only missed the mark with its terms of reference, but issued the RFEOI at a time that nobody in the marina industry would be paying attention.

Following that, at the end of 2016, council issued a new RFEOI and launched an extensive marketing campaign to the tune of $25,000 in order to market the possibility worldwide. Answering the call were a quartet of possible operators.

Then came the RFP process, which narrowed the field down to the two final contenders, including the Oshawa Farewell Marina Consortium, a conglomerate of local business owners who had retained the Biglieri Group to create a detailed marina proposal, and a company by the name of Charming Panda Technology Inc. Both proposals were eliminated following council’s closed meeting on Feb. 20.

The recommendation in the closed report was predicated on an audit from KPMG, who was hired by the city to analyze the pair of proposals for their feasibility.

“They quickly, as part of their review, identified that neither RFP met the mandatory requirements in terms of the information that was requested as part of the RFP, and they also identified that both indicated that the project was not financially feasible without significant investment from the city,” Ralph explains. “That was the key, to see if there was somebody that saw there was the ability from the private sector to deliver it with minimal investment from the city’s perspective.”

Following the cancellation of the RFP, councillors on the Development Services committee heard from members of the public who were furious with what they saw as council and the city’s repeated failures at the waterfront.

“You failed this community on that,” said resident Larry Ladd, a strong waterfront advocate and former tenant of the now-closed Oshawa marina. “If a report card were given to our Oshawa council on the marina and boat launch and access to Lake Ontario issue, it would be an F, lots of talk, no action, equals failure.”

Until October 2002, there was a public marina and boat launch at the harbour. However, in May of that year, the Oshawa Harbour Commission (the Port Authority’s predecessor) announced the Oshawa Marina and Yacht Club would be closed, citing environmental and financial reasons. All users were asked to vacate the space.

And while the process may not have resulted in a new public marina, Sharma doesn’t see the situation as a total loss, noting that he’s confident something will arise for Oshawa’s waterfront.

“I think we’ve learned a lot. So as far as disappointment, we believe it’s just a matter of time,” he says. “Perhaps we would always want it to happen faster, but we’ve learned a lot and what we’re confident in is there should be opportunities in the future.”

For now, he says the city is turning its focus back to completing its minimum requirements under the Settlement Agreement with the federal government, which gives the city until October of this year to get the land reopened for parkland uses.

Along with that, Sharma says the door is still open for any interested parties to come forward with proposals for the marina.

“My understanding in discussions with Paul and others as far as next steps specific to a marina, nothing precludes us from entertaining other offers or considerations from a marina perspective, but I don’t know that we’re going out formally to engage in another RFP or anything of that sort,” he says. “That’s not direction we’ve received from council.”

“If the private sector is interested, they will certainly knock on our door,” Ralph adds.