Finance issues slow library talks

By Geoff Lee

Negotiations between the City of Ottawa and Cadillac Fairview Corporation over the sale of the main downtown library are going slowly. Officials involved in the negotiations say several issues must be clarified before it reaches city council.

“There are more questions than answers at this stage,” says Elisabeth Arnold, city councillor whose ward includes the library. “We want to make sure the level of service is maintained and the library is not negatively affected in any way. We want to make sure the sale of a public facility is a change for the better not for the worse.”

The proposal would see Cadillac Fairview buy the building at the corner of Metcalfe Street and Laurier Avenue and lease it back to the city, leaving the responsibility for needed renovations and maintenance to the corporation.

The library is looking for $10 million for renovations to create more space for books and meeting rooms for the downtown branch and upgrades to three other branches.

Arnold says several issues must be resolved including determining a selling price for the building and how future revenues would be shared between the city and the library after the sale.
Another issue is where the library’s administrative staff should be housed.

Relocating the administration would create room for Cadillac Fairview’s staff, but details about where the library’s personnel should work and who should pay for the new facility would have to be worked out.
The two major pressures affecting the decision are: the library has a new southend branch as its top priority and the city can only afford the maintenance of existing city assets and the provision of hard services such as road upkeep and sewers.

This will be the status quo until its debt of $175 million is paid off in 2012.

Officials are taking their time making a decision to ensure the best arrangement for the library and the city and have sent the matter before the policy, priorities, and budgeting committee. The committee is expecting a report from a research group commissioned to study the matter in late December or early January. Rosemarie Leclair, the city’s commissioner of corporate services who is handling the research, says this will be the final report.

“Our main concerns are maintaining or improving the level of service and taking care of the finances,” says Mayor Jim Watson, a member of the library board.

Watson declined to comment on financial terms but estimates for the building are in the millions.

Cadillac Fairview executive vice-president Peter Sharpe refused to give any details about negotiations but would only say that the discussions were progressing and “the city is taking (the negotiations) seriously.”