Hospital's stalled parking garage expansion back on track according to city report

After nearly three years of delays and questions, the long-awaited expansion of the Chown parking garage is finally expected to begin this spring.
Kingston's Hotel Dieu Hospital is keen to buy the city's biggest off-street parking facility and then expand it to handle an influx of outpatients who will need extra parking for their clinical appointments.

The hospital has partnered with a private consortium, led by The Springer Group, to design, build and manage the existing 440-space garage. The group will also put up an estimated $10 million to add another 200 parking spaces to the Chown. The expansion, above a new breast screening clinic at the corner of Montreal and Brock Streets, will also feature a pedestrian skywalk linking the garage to the hospital.

However, the proposed sale and expansion have stalled due to complex negotiations between the city, the hospital and the consortium.

A new report on the status of the project, presented to council January 19, suggests negotiations to complete the contracts are entering the final stages and should be finished within "60 to 90 days and the project will proceed forthwith."

Since council first agreed to explore the sale/lease of the Chown garage to the hospital in August 2007 there have been several roadblocks, including, a third party review of the complex land deal requested by the Ontario health ministry and changes in three key positions within the Dieu's senior management team.

Last month, frustrated city councillors asked their own legal department to find out what's behind the delays. A motion from Coun. Bill Glover went a step further, seeking advice on whether the city could rescind its deal with the Dieu.

"We were tongue lashed to get on with this... that it was essential because cars were supposed to be parking in the completed garage by December 2008," said Glover, who has opposed the privatization of a public garage.

In a bid to quell council fears over the stalled project, the latest report states negotiations are "90 to 95 percent complete" and only minor points need to be addressed.

Under terms of the tentative deal, Hotel Dieu is willing to pay the city $4 million to buy the multi-level Chown Memorial parking garage, plus another $61,225 a year to lease the land beneath it for up to 99 years. The Dieu, in turn, must negotiate the terms of construction and operation with its private consortium.

The more than $61,000 in negotiated land lease fees won't fully offset the loss of monthly and daily parking revenues. In 2008, the Chown made a profit of $72,500 for the city's parking reserve fund. Those profits are to be privatized, though hospital officials have promised to keep parking rates affordable and accessible.

An estimated 80 percent of the Chown's parking spaces are already used by people coming to the hospital's outpatient clinics which are expanding under local health care restructuring. The Brock Street hospital is expected to take on another 100,000 additional patients (from 400,000 to 500,000 a year) once most outpatient clinics are relocated out of Kingston General Hospital.

It was generally believed that the city itself could not afford the Chown parking expansion and selling it would allow the construction to move along faster. However, critics say the three year time lapse hardly justifies the urgency hospital officials expressed when they initially approached the city about buying its prized parking asset.
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