To understand how successful the Midland Bay Sailing Club has become, it should be heard from Midland Mayor Stewart Strathearn of how that land was when he was a child.
“I remember driving out there as a kid when it was burning sawdust; underground smoke coming up. It was just like Mordor out of Lord of the Rings,” described Strathearn of the swampy waterfront which defined Midland’s industrial heritage from the late 19th Century until the early 1970s.
“The docks there were basically rough-cut two-by-twelve, sixty feet long; cross-braces two-by-six on cedar posts,” Strathearn continued. “And as a five-year-old kid I’m looking down at all these bullfrogs and I’m hoping I don’t fall off and get eaten by the bullfrogs.
“The transformation that you guys have made there is spectacular, and hats off to you for that.”
Strathearn’s description came during a council deputation from John Lister, a long-time member of the Midland Bay Sailing Club, in regards to a lease agreement discussion between the organization and the town.
Lister provided council with a history of the club, from its original lease of $1 with the town in 1973 which came with certain expectations.
“For those who don’t know it, it was initially a swamp in that area,” Lister explained, “and part of the requirement of the lease was that we would develop the land… in terms of filling the land and also building the berms where the docks are now.
“But a big part was to create a launch ramp for the Town of Midland and the lagoon that goes down to it. And since the early 1970s, it’s been the club’s responsibility, as per the lease, to keep that right of way open.”
Since that origin, the sailing club had invested over $2 million into upkeep and upgrades, achieving success as the biggest sailing club in Georgian Bay and the largest sailing school north of Toronto.
“Since 2020, we’ve spent $545,000 on dredging, a big part of that keeping the waterway open down to that ramp,” said Lister. “Just recently, the club has voted to spend $643,000 over the next five years on the sailing school, on replacing the dock and some facility upgrades.”
While the town had not renewed the sailing club’s lease causing them to continue paying based on the expired lease rates, it was the club who wished to enter into a new lease agreement. A staff report brought to the committee of the whole explored options.
MPAC assessed the property which included Pete Pettersen Park and the waterfront trail at just over $1 million; but for only the five acres of club lands, staff calculated a yield of nearly $21,000 per year in rent if considered.
A standard town lease agreement was presented, including: payment of $20,000 plus HST for 2022; payment of property taxes and all utilities by the club; the club providing insurance; full indemnification for the municipality; upkeep, maintenance and responsibility; a first right of refusal to purchase the property; and removal of leasehold improvements should the agreement be terminated.
Lister asked council for three recommendations from the club: a continuation of the 20-year lease cycle instead of 10 years; that either party may provide two years of notice prior to lease expiry if they don’t intend to renew; and that the payment for subsequent years becomes indexed at the town’s annual percentage increase of tax rate, but not blended rate.
Many on council expressed their support and thanks for all the club had provided the community, and only few questions were raised.
Coun. Bill Gordon noted how the matching tax rate suggestion from the club was similar to one raised by Deputy Mayor Mike Ross at the 2022 budget discussion about Midland Harbour which was operating at an annual loss.
In talks about the agreement, Strathearn offered an amendment of a revolving lease which would provide an “option to renew at the end of the 10-year term with an additional 10-year term on approval of both parties.
“Given what I said earlier about this being a sawdust pile that is basically burning with some earth over top of it,” said Strathearn, “I suspect that if you did a geophysical survey on that site, there’s no way you’re putting anything up other than a one-storey building.
“I suspect that that piece of property already has highest and best use of an asset; I think we’d all agree on that.”
Council passed the amended motion for the lease agreement.
During the deputation, Ross offered a suggestion to Lister about purchasing the land from the town; Lister responded that it was an option that had been considered but not fully explored by the sailing club as of yet.
The Midland Bay Sailing Club lease staff report is available in full in the council agenda on the Town of Midland website.
Further information on club history, activities and memberships for the organization is available on the Midland Bay Sailing Club website.
Council meetings are held every third Wednesday, and can be attended virtually through Zoom by contacting the clerk’s department of Midland town hall for a link to the meeting.
Council meetings can also be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca