8 Months Later, Ron Rienas Replies to the Strand
by Geoff Kelly - posted 12:10 pm, February 20, 2009
About eight months ago, I linked to a post on a Crystal Beach, Ontario online news and opinion site called the Strand that alleged shady dealings between the Public Bridge Authority and Town of Fort Erie officials in regard to the disposition of Fort Erie’s Mentholatum Building, which the PBA owned and had planned to lease to the town. I knew nothing of the matter, and still don’t—I don’t even know where the Mentholatum Building is. I figured I’d post what the Strand had written and see what folks thought. One guy responded, saying basically that the Strand was wrong and using unreliable sources.
Yesterday, eight months later, PBA manager Ron Rienas responded, too, by email:
Earlier this month the PBA sold the Mentholatum Building to the Boys and Girls Club of Niagara. The sale price was the same that the Peace Bridge Authority (PBA) paid for the building approx. 4 1/2 years ago.
The building was initially acquired by the PBA and used for Peace Bridge purposes to facilitate the reconstruction of the Canadian Customs Plaza. The PBA is required by Canadian law to provide facilities for the immigration/refugee function including facilities for an NGO that provides refugee services. As the reconstruction of the plaza involved demolition of buildings housing those functions we were obligated to provide alternative space. The Canadian plaza construction was completed in 2007 allowing these uses to return to the plaza enabling the PBA to dispose of the building.
As a public entity and in keeping with Town of Fort Erie plans to utilize the building for community purpose, the Board did originally offer the use of the building to Town for a $1.00/year lease but the Town would be required to pay all utilities, taxes, maintenance, etc. When there was opposition to that arrangement because it was incorrectly perceived as free rent competing with the private sector, the Board determined that it was simply not worth fighting to do something beneficial for the community. Accordingly the decision was made to sell the building but in keeping with the desire to maintain the building for a community benefit the PBA first offered it to charitable organizations before putting it on the open market. The Boys and Girls Club of Niagara acquired the property and will be using the building for its own purposes as well as leasing space to the Town and other community groups. The difference being that the capital cost of the building is now built into the rent structure costing community groups more money.
As for the other allegations in the article there was a full environmental assessment done on the building and no remedial environmental work was required. The elevator was repaired and there was a roof repair – total cost I understood to be less than $10,000. The reference to the PBA giving “gifts ” is also not accurate as we continue, in the spirit of good corporate citizen, to make grants to groups and associations on both sides of the river that meet pre-determined criteria.
This isn’t my bailiwick, so I’m not fact-checking Ron’s account anymore than I fact-checked the Strand’s. But I’d love to hear more from folks who know more about the issue.