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Waterfront corp. near shutdown

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Waterfront corp. near shutdown

Said to be 26 days from shutdown

Projects delayed; Ottawa owes $10M




The corporation responsible for turning Toronto's waterfront from derelict to delightful is 26 days away from bankruptcy because the federal government hasn't paid its bills.

The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. stopped all new spending in January and is so broke that it doesn't have money to pay employees or the rent on its office, the board of directors was told at a meeting yesterday.

The federal government owes the corporation $10 million, and if it doesn't turn over at least $6.6 million before March 15, the "shut-down plan," which involves stopping all projects and laying off staff, begins.

The corporation, created to turn 46 kilometres of waterfront into vibrant neighbourhoods full of homes, jobs, transit and green parks, is equally funded and directed by Ottawa, Queen's Park and the city.

But as shareholders, the three parties have proven to be "incompetent" and "all quite useless," said Ralph Lean, a lawyer and provincial appointee to the board.

"This is game over (for the waterfront). The citizens of Toronto should be embarrassed by their governments," he said.

While the federal government is on the hot seat now, the corporation has had problems getting funding and project approvals from all three levels at one time or another.

"I know people are torquing things. We will pay our bills," Joe Volpe, minister of human resources and skills development, said in an interview.

"I think our money will be in their hands in the next few weeks," Volpe said, adding that, in the aftermath of the federal sponsorship scandal, anything to do with money is being carefully checked and rechecked.

Yesterday, the corporation's chief financial officer, Edward Dato, ran through a litany of waterfront projects that have been "scaled back" and "slowed down" for lack of money, and other projects that haven't started at all because they are "sitting around" waiting for approvals.

The Cherry Beach rehabilitation project, for example, has been scaled back, and water's edge improvements at Harbourfront were delayed.

Yesterday's board meeting came a day after corporation chair Robert Fung told the Economic Club of Toronto that trying to revitalize the city's waterfront was like playing three games of chess simultaneously.

It does appear there's a case of brinkmanship going on.

Fung spoke with Volpe on Wednesday, informing him about the board meeting.

That night, 14 hours before yesterday's meeting, Fung got a letter from Volpe saying he should be able to send money soon.

Volpe's letter didn't bring comfort to board members.

"Why would I take comfort from this (letter, saying) there might be a cheque in the mail?" asked Mark Wilson, an IBM executive and city appointee.

The corporation's fiscal year ends March 31, and if the federal government comes through with the $6.6 million it has suggested will be coming, most of that will go into paying off debt.

Since January, to save money, it has been paying only two-thirds of what it owes agencies like the TTC and the city's works department for site preparation. It owes $5.6 million.

When the corporation was created, the governments promised to share equally the $1.5 billion cost of creating enough momentum on the waterfront to draw private-sector development. But rather than turn the money over to the corporation, the governments involved have insisted on approving each project individually.

Mayor David Miller said in an interview yesterday that to end this, the corporation must be rethought, and elected officials, including the mayor, must be put on the board. Right now, the board is made up of 10 government-appointed directors.

Elected officials would provide more accountability and give governments more confidence to turn over money and let the corporation do its job, he said.

If the corporation gets enough federal cash to survive into next month, its problems aren't over.

The board refused to approve a $100 million budget for the coming fiscal year, saying there was no guarantee it would actually have that money.

"I'm not hearing any assurances from management that this will be the real budget," said federal appointee John Ronson. Fung agreed, saying the numbers "in many respects are theoretical."

An emergency board meeting March 15 will either come up with a budget for this year or start the shut-down plan if federal funds don't come through.

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