With the culmination of years of planning and preparation, Council is taking the final step to approve the construction tender and groundbreaking on the historic Library Square project. This is a significant investment in our community and residents have some tough, important questions about the project.
So, let’s answer the questions and correct any misinformation.
How long have we been planning Library Square?
Municipal Councils have been discussing the revitalization of our downtown core for 40 years. In 1979, Council held a special meeting to discuss the future of town owned properties, especially Church Street School.
In 2001, the first significant step to create Library Square was taken when the Town purchased 7 properties to build the Library and started the renovation of Church Street School..
Phase 2 of Library Square began in 2005 when the Town sold Aurora Hydro was sold and the funds generated by the sale were designated for investment back into the Town.
In 2006, the new Seniors Centre was opened, so we could repurpose the land from both the old Library and Seniors Centre
Since then we have had 15 years of discussion, debate, public consultation and expensive consultant’s reports. 15 years with no improvement to our downtown to support struggling local businesses. 15 years of spending time and money with nothing to show for the tax dollars spent – but bills and empty storefronts.
Further delay will only lead to further decay.
As we recover from a global pandemic, is this the right time to invest $51 million on new infrastructure?
Yes, our local economy needs investment more than ever. With local businesses experiencing financial hardship, doing nothing does nothing to help our local businesses.
From Brampton to Burlington, from Markham to Newmarket, improvements in other municipalities have proven that when communities invest in their downtown core, the area sees improvement and renewal. Investing in the revitalization of our downtown, is central to the economic development of the community as a whole.
As reported in the Aurora Museum and Cultural Centre Business Plan presented at the March 21, 2019 Council meeting, “…the creation of a cultural hub in Aurora’s downtown will act as a catalyst for redevelopment which will provide spin off benefits to local business along Yonge Street.”
It is also why the Federal and Provincial Governments are investing $1 billion in infrastructure projects, from recreation centres to cultural centres, roads, bridges and housing — because that is how you stimulate economic recovery.
Investment inspires investment. Pausing doesn’t stimulate the economy – it risks stagnating it.
What are we spending 51 million on?
The project breaks down roughly as follows:
$27M for the Church Street School addition… A 32,000 Sq. ft. multi purpose built facility
$8M for an Outdoor Square and Parking
$7.5M for enhancements and expansion to the existing Library Building
$4.5M for an enclosed pedestrian bridge linking the two facilities
$5M Contingency fund … standard process to have 10% set aside for unforeseen issues that come up during construction.
If we do them all separately it will be less efficient, take more time overall and be more costly.
By combining them we have created synergies and efficiencies that will save the town time and money.
How are we paying for this project?
Funds for this $51.9 million project will come from a combination of sources. $24.3M from the Hydro Reserve Fund. $20.1M from Development Charges/Reserve Funds and the balance of $7.5M from a 20 year debenture.
What will the impact be on our taxes?
As part of our long-term financial planning, the Town works on the budgeting principle of inflation plus 1.0%. This anticipates the need for increased access to services to support new residents moving into town as well as maintain and repair existing infrastructure. The construction of Library Square will not impact this planning principle. This long-term planning is also how we have been able to keep tax increases near 3.0% and avoid a significant increase in any single year as new services launch.
How will this help revitalize our downtown core?
Building on the investments of the Library, The Armoury and Town Park, Library Square creates a destination for people to gather based on programming by the Town and our partners. This will bring people downtown more frequently and will help generate an environment for stores and restaurants to thrive.
We need to provide spaces in our town that will provide a reason for our residents to continue to shop locally as opposed to going to neighbouring communities for their leisure and shopping.
Additionally, experiences in other communities make a strong financial case for investing in our downtown. Successful downtown revitalizations have triggered $10 to $15 of private investment for every $1 of public investment. So in our case, our $51 million investment could ultimately generate over $500 million of private investment in Aurora in the years to come. These investments create ongoing benefits for a thriving local economy and the ability to generate higher tax revenues.
How will the extra space be used? What type of programming can we expect in the new facility?
Library Square will have a complex of larger multi-use spaces and break-out rooms to provide businesses and community organizations a variety of options to hold their programs and annual events. Amenities include;
- Outdoor Public Square: movies, concerts, ice skating, splash pad, space for public gathering, etc.
- Café and catering kitchen
- Multi-use performance venue with versatile seating: Theatre, Conferences, Workshops, Banquets, Fairs/Markets
- Visual arts studio divisible to suit different uses
- Dance studio
- Environmentally controlled museum storage
- Multi-use programming space at Library
What about parking? Is there appropriate Accessibility Parking?
The downtown core parking study identified over 400 parking spots within the same equivalent space as the Walmart plaza. This ensures visitors can enjoy the magic of Library Square while creating a walkable, pedestrian friendly, downtown core. Additionally, there will be an improvement in accessible parking that exceeds the legislated requirements.
What are Reserve Funds? Can this money be used for something else?
No, Reserve Funds are special savings accounts which should not be used other than for the specific purpose they were created for – such as Parkland, Facility Repair & Replacement, Library, etc. They should not be used to reduce operating costs and the resultant tax rate.
As part of the Town’s long-term planning, each year a percentage of our tax revenue is transferred to Reserve Funds to pay for future infrastructure needs. This is comparable to putting money into a home repair account each year so you have enough to replace your roof or purchase a new fridge when it needs replacement. It’s prudent financial management. However, unlike your home repair account, Reserve Funds should only be used for the purpose they were created.
Similarly, Development Charges can only be used for infrastructure projects like roads, parkland acquisition, and development of community amenities like pools, arenas and libraries.
Simply put, none of these designated funds would ever be used towards our yearly operating budget. Contributions to our Reserve Funds have been part of our long-term planning for many years, so building Library Square today versus in the future using these funds has no impact on any future tax rates. So suggestions that pausing Library Square would reduce taxes is either uninformed or purposely misleading.
Why are we borrowing money when recovery from this pandemic is uncertain?
The Town has enough money in our reserves (i.e. savings account) to pay for the project in full. However, we currently earn 3.0 – 3.5% interest on our Reserve Funds. So, it’s common sense to take a low interest line of credit at 0.65% or a debenture at 1.85% from the Province to keep our reserves locked in earning a higher rate of interest. Utilizing this fiscal strategy, the town could realize over $1 million in additional investment income. With the completion of the planned Library Square development, the Town will still have approximately $50 million in reserves. A positive financial position that is the envy of many Municipalities.
Wouldn’t it be more prudent to delay?
Year after year people have said; let’s go slow, let’s get more information, the time is not right to spend tax dollars. However, since then, construction costs have risen each year and we have not enjoyed the benefit of the facility for use or the positive impact on our downtown core to support business.
The studies are done, and we have a responsible funding plan that does not impact future tax rates.
Equally important, we had a very competitive tendering process because many companies are seeking projects to keep their people employed, so we received very cost-effective pricing and we are generating jobs.
What are the downsides of Delaying?
There are 4 key downsides of delaying this project.
- Downtown needs our support now. The longer we delay, the longer before this critical element of our downtown revitalization plan can have a positive impact on our local economy
- Our community partners need programming space now
- Construction costs invariably rise each year. Delays today mean the project will cost more later
- Interest rates are currently low. As the economy improves, interest rates will increase
There has never been a better time to invest in our community!
I am proud of the work the previous Council started and this Council will finish by taking the final historic next step to make the long-term vision for our downtown core a reality; a practical, productive step forward to build a stronger community with a vibrant downtown core and a thriving local economy.
As the former Mayor Dick Illingworth said in 2005, “Round and Round on Library Square”. After 15 years, it’s time we get off the merry go round and get things done — and done right.