Blais getting his way

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Written by Jon Willing in the Ottawa Sun

Plans underway to develop major $8M east end park

The rest of the city should borrow from a playbook that’s proposing an $8-million upgrade to Millennium Park in Orléans, according to the councillor quarterbacking the plan.

Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais said an agreement between the city and four developers to add an artificial turf field, new soccer fields, splash pads and a field house — all on the builders’ dime— is a blueprint of hownew parks can be quickly advanced.

“This is the new way to finance major recreation projects,” Blais said Wednesday.

Blais has been working on the Millennium Park expansion for over a year, even before his heart attack at the beginning of 2013. His recovery put the project on the backburner, but now it’s ready for political approval.

The city hasn’t been planning to build the remainder of the park in the near future, with only $2 million set aside for construction.

Blais approached homebuilders Minto, Taggart, Mattamy and Claridge to get the park built right away.

“They get a park to market as part of theirmarketing program,” Blais said.

The funding proposal involves the city borrowing the money and the developers making the repayments. The city would come up with a new development charge in the area as part of the funding plan.

In a report to council’s planning committee, city staff call it “an innovative approach” to building a district park.

There are safety nets in the agreement to ensure the developersmake the payments and taxpayers don’t shoulder cost overruns, Blais said.

Blais said the park could also benefit from a plan by the Cumberland Cobras soccer club, which wants to establish an indoor training facility under a property use agreementwith the city.

Along with the artificial soccer/football field— which would be built so a sports dome could be installed during the winter — the project calls for three new grass soccer fields and a junior soccer field.

Blais recognizes the economic development potential by having a large sports facility in Orléans.

“We’re talking about a major amateur sports facility for tournaments,” Blais said. “It opens up a number of doors.”

The new facility would also be eligible for a naming rights agreement, generating revenue for the city.

A preliminary construction schedule has the new sections of the park opening in 2015.

The planning committee needs to sign off on the development plan Tuesday before sending a recommendation to council.