'Numbers don't tell the whole story': Moncton mayor defends overspending on downtown project

1 / 3
Moncton mayor wants glyphosate spraying stopped near Turtle Creek

Moncton taxpayers now have a better idea of how much the downtown event centre and plaza are going to cost and it's $8.7 million more than expected, but Mayor Dawn Arnold is confident it's going to be worth it.

According to documents presented to Moncton City Council on Monday evening, the total cost of the downtown centre and the plaza will be $112,978,773 which is $8,773,773 more than projected.

"Numbers don't tell the whole story," Arnold said in an interview on Information Morning Moncton.

"We're going to pay for it by being creative ... the whole point of building this downtown centre was to grow our city."

- Moncton's downtown centre plaza to cost more than double original estimate 

John Martin, general manager of finance and administrative services with the city, delivered the detailed downtown centre and plaza update.

Coun. Paul Pellerin questioned the jump in costs on Monday and wanted to make sure the $112,978,773 figure was correct and included the contingency fund, the plaza and any other "overspends."

"Yes ... it is and that figure is as current as we have right now, which is right around now," Martin replied.

In the past, Pellerin had raised concerns about the increased cost of the plaza.

Arnold said the improvements to the outdoor space, which was originally "a concrete slab," came after public consultations.

"This was not going to be good enough for a public gathering space outside of the state of the art sports and entertainment centre ... the public really came forward and said, 'No, that's not good enough.'"

'This is how we build a city'

Outside the meeting, Martin said there are a lot of moving parts to the financial report, which he said is common for any project of this size.

The report lists the following costs:

- $91,500,000 for the centre itself

- $13,284,270 for the land

- $4,337,613 for the plaza

- $2,143,930 for soil mitigation/project management

- $2,712,960 for other infrastructure

Arnold said a $1 million private donation toward the downtown plaza is expected and is already included in the project update.

According to the documents, the city will pay for the bulk of the cost overruns by spending $2,540,000 from its capital reserves fund and $5,264,218 from the capital budget — debt account.

"This is how we build a city," Arnold said. "It's about having a vision and building something that will grow our city."

When asked how the over-budget amounts would affect future projects in Moncton and future tax rates, Arnold wasn't sure.

"This is where we will call on our administration to look very carefully at our budget, analyze and give us some different scenarios and we will figure it out."

Martin said the city should be able to find "$5 million of projects" that can be delayed.

"All we'd ask them to do is go out a year or so and then we'd be able to move that money and then the debt wouldn't change from what's in our budgets."

Plaza operating costs add up

The annual operating costs of the downtown centre plaza, after it is complete, will total $676,362, according to the update.

"It will cost just like any other park. You have to remove snow, cut grass — all those sorts of things," Arnold said.

When asked whether the Moncton taxpayers can afford the cost of the project and the annual operation costs, Arnold said it is going to be a worthwhile investment.

"Our downtown core only represents 1.5 per cent of the entire geography of our city and yet right now it is bringing 14.4 per cent of all the city taxes into our community, and that's with 42 per cent of it as surface parking," she said.

"We know that we have to densify our downtown and this is a very big part of it. It's creating a space that is world class that will attract people from all over and the plaza is a really big part of that."

Arnold added the downtown centre is already paying off, and in the past six months building permits totaling $35 million have been issued compared to a past annual average of between $8 million and $10 million.

"Every single day I have a developer in my office that is very interested in investing in our community ... they feel the momentum that is happening in our community and they want to be a part of it."