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Councillor floats ideas around marina expansion, private-public partnership

McCann says he's against selling any city-owned waterfront land, but wants staff to look into potential for a private-public partnership to expand the marina

Any changes to the Barrie Marina and surrounding area that could possibly restrict public access to the city's waterfront caused some waves at city council last night. 

Coun. Mike McCann brought up an item for discussion at council Monday asking city staff to investigate the potential for a public-private partnership to expand the Lakeshore Drive marina, which would possibly include relocation of the Sea Cadets building to the Southshore Centre. 

There was some reluctance around the council table about what 'privatization' could eventually mean along the waterfront. 

"This is just for more information," McCann said. "This is not decision-making time. I'd like to see all opportunities. I don't see any harm in leaving that open."

The Ward 10 councillor said he was interested in hearing back on all possibilities, short of ever selling any of the city's waterfront land. 

"If a developer wanted to come and invest in our city and wanted to expand on the marina, but also had also the opportunity to take over the existing marina, I'd be very open to that," McCann said. 

Deputy Mayor Barry Ward said he had concerns about privatizing any portion of the city's waterfront. 

"I'm still not crazy about the idea, but I'm OK with that as long as we drop the word 'privatizing' (from the council direction to city staff)," Ward said. 

McCann stressed that he's also against the city relinquishing any waterfront land.

"I would never entertain that idea, either," he said, adding the city would still own the land, but could possibly lease the facility to a private business for the day-to-day operations. 

Mayor Jeff Lehman said the city perhaps shouldn't be in the marina business, but also noted a report on the facility and its operations is still a matter to be dealt with by council at a later date. 

"It's something that the private sector handles everywhere else on the lake," said Lehman, who added Barrie Marina has been a money-making venture, with that surplus going into the facility's reserve fund. 

The city has taken a closer look at marina operations, with the report from earlier this year indicating privatization has "relatively few benefits."

Lehman also noted that the city has looked into whether any private businesses would be interested in operating the marina, but it came back with little to no interest. 

"The municipality doesn't really need to be providing boat slips to people," he noted. "That being said, I would never support losing any of our waterfront land."

Coun. Keenan Aylwin, who represents the downtown area where the marina is located, said he couldn't back McCann's request and called it a "bizarre discussion" to even have. 

"I absolutely will not be supporting this," Aylwin said. "Our waterfront land is a very precious resource and there's limited space down there. I don't think there's a desire from our residents to encroach on that public space with an area that's only accessible to people with a boat in the marina."

Aylwin also noted that public-private partnerships can be "risky."

Lehman said he agreed with Aylwin, but also expressed a level of caution and a need to see what city staff come back with.  

"I would never put any waterfront land into private hands," the mayor said. "The net effect of this motion, and why I'm going to support it, is I believe if done right, this could actually open up more of the waterfront to the public.

"If we don't like the terms when it comes back, we can say 'no'," Lehman added. 

Coun. Jim Harris said "these are not worrisome words to me" to have city staff simply look into the matter and report back to council on its options. 

The Sea Cadets have expressed interest in moving their facility to the other side of the bay, which would be safer due to less marine traffic in the area where it's currently located near the Spirit Catcher. 

What would replace the Sea Cadets building at its current fenced-in location remains to be seen, but one idea that has been brought up is possibly a restaurant or tourism pavilion. That topic came up several months ago when councillors discussed the area surrounding the downtown transit terminal and turning it into a market facility.

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Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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