Waterfront design competition stopped at Council budget committee. Meed Ward fails to deliver, Craven scuttles a good idea.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON April 4, 2011 – It was an idea that former Toronto Mayor David Crombie (The Tiny Perfect One) put to the Waterfront Advisory Committee. “Hold a design competition for your waterfront and make sure you get at least one oddball on the committee”, advised Crombie

Earlier in his session Crombie told the Advisory committee that Burlington was once a leader in the development of the Lake Ontario waterfront, but had fallen away from its leadership position.

Few smiles and fewer words from Craven at the Waterfront Advisory meeting which didn’t stop him from trying to scuttle the idea at the Budget meeting.

Few smiles and fewer words from Craven at the Waterfront Advisory meeting which didn’t stop him from trying to scuttle the idea at the Budget meeting.

His idea for a design competition gained some traction at the Waterfront Advisory level and Ward 2 council member Marianne Meed Ward took on the task of getting the $45,000. needed to hold the competition. Ward 1 councillor Rick Craven, who sits on the committee, said hardly a word at the Waterfront Committee meeting but had lots to say at the council Budget meeting where he did as much as he could to scuttle the idea.

After more than six months of seminars and briefing sessions the Waterfront Advisory committee finally got down to some real work and then went at that with a vengeance. Gary Scobie was given the task of running the Old Lakeshore Road sub-committee responsible for that little wedge of land that is south of the Old Lakeshore Road, none of which the city owns – except for the road itself which, if intelligently used, could impact all of the development that would take place in that area.

Scobie was the point man for the committee when it appeared before the council budget committee explaining what a design competition was; how good an idea it was and how it would work. Scobie was refreshingly open – not something you see all that often at council. He wanted to “work out of the box” and believed that while the properties in questions are held by 17 different owners the city does have what Crombie taught them was a “bully pit” that could be used to bring developers around to the point where the trade offs could be made.

The road is city property – development is going to have to take this account.  17 property owners will all have to come to the table.

The road is city property – development is going to have to take this account. 17 property owners will all have to come to the table.

With the property in the hands of 17 owners – no one developer is going to able to impose a view or an overall design on what is described as the “eastern gate to the downtown core” unless someone does an awful lot of very expensive property assembly.

The waterfront committee wanted to hold a design competition that would bring some exciting ideas to the surface and let the public have a look at what comes out of the competition. The property owners would be invited to become an integral part of the people meeting with the three design architect’s chosen to take part in the competition.

What Scobie didn’t really succeed in getting across to the council budget committee was that this was an experiment as much as anything, something to kick start some creative thinking about what to do with the waterfront area just east of Pearl Street. Meed Ward coached Scobie through a question and answer between the two of them designed to elicit the view point the Waterfront people wanted to get across – it didn’t quite work.

Waterfront walkway stops at this point – but could continue along the Old Lakeshore Road that city owns.  Design competition would bring out some ideas for the public to consider.

Waterfront walkway stops at this point – but could continue along the Old Lakeshore Road that city owns. Design competition would bring out some ideas for the public to consider.

That doesn’t mean the idea wasn’t a good one. This council just wasn’t prepared to give the Waterfront people $45,000. to go off and hold a design competition without a lot more information and a chance to buy into the idea.

When it looked as if the design completion has a ghost of a chance, Councillor Craven petulantly said that if the Waterfront got money for a design competition he wanted funds for a design competition for Plains Road in Aldershot. One would have thought Craven could have/should have made his views known at the Waterfront Committee level rather than sand bag his colleagues at the Budget level.

At the Waterfront Committee level it was clear that they were not fully aware of what they were going to run into at Council. The group didn’t take any of their thoughts to the city planner – who, they should have known, has to be a significant part of what they were setting out to do.

Nevertheless they soldiered forward and while the case they made wasn’t as detailed as it had to be they weren’t turned down flat. There is room for them to come back with a much more detailed and thoroughly researched proposal. They do have some friends on council.

Meed Ward had to eventually withdraw the request for funds – it wasn’t because the rest of council was against the idea – they just didn’t know enough to be able to support the request. Ward 3 councillor Taylor and Dennison of Ward 4 were very much onside – but they wanted more information. They weren’t about to put $45,000. into the hands of a committee without having a pretty clear idea as to what was going to happen with it.

Design competitions are used to bring new ideas to a city. The close to iconic Toronto city hall was the result of an international design competition and while Crombie will tell you it isn’t all that efficient a building it certainly changed the way the world saw Toronto.

Banks did some of the research on the cost of a Design Competition – it wasn’t all that deep.

Banks did some of the research on the cost of a Design Competition – it wasn’t all that deep.

A design competition seemed like a really good idea but the Waterfront committee didn’t take advantage of support available for them within city hall. The research on design competitions amounted to a couple of phone calls made by Sarah Banks. A contact within city hall explained that a competition with a $15,000. fee attached to it would get a firm who assigned a couple of architectural students to the project and maybe some drawings and that w

While Burlington has a good profile and our western waterfront is in desperate need of a major makeover the downtown core east of John Street presents a very significant opportunity and a major planning challenge. The Waterfront Advisory people deserve credit for getting an idea out of the committee level and before a council committee.

The architectural firms that take part in design competitions don’t make any money on these things, they tend to lose money, but the publicity and the potential for some work is usually worth the effort. If their design wins and it is picked up by the trade press they expand their profile – and that is what brings clients to their doors.

The Waterfront committee didn’t appear to be in touch with any of the several architectural magazines in Canada to get some background and create the opportunity for a story about their plans within the design community. An opportunity to showcase the city was lost by a committee that chose to work by itself and not do it right the first time.

Fortunately they have a chance to further develop their idea and bring it back to council. They need to work on their story and get one of the two city council representatives onside – or do what they can to get rid of him.

Scobie’s performance as a delegation to the Budget Committee earned him the chairmanship of the Waterfront Advisory when that job opens up.

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