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Developer did not adhere to RFP requirements, Port aux Basques town manager explains

Port aux Basques town manager Leon MacIsaac said the town believes $50,000 for the former Bruce Stadium property is too low.
Port aux Basques town manager Leon MacIsaac said the town believes $50,000 for the former Bruce Stadium property is too low.

PORT AUX BASQUES, NL – For months Port aux Basques council and its economic committee have acknowledged the need for affordable senior housing in the area and have been exploring options to make that happen.

Economic development strategist Shauna Strickland reiterated the town’s commitment to affordable senior housing via phone interview on Tuesday, Sept. 19.

“Senior housing is certainly up there on our list of priorities, and we certainly want senior housing in our community. It’s something we’ve put a fair bit of work into over the last little while so it’s certainly a priority.”

So why did the town recently reject an offer by local developer Bill Durnford, owner of Island Kicks International, to build a 16-unit seniors complex on the site of the former Bruce Stadium?
Town manager Leon MacIsaac responded to an email inquiry from the Gulf News seeking clarification on the town’s position.

In his response, he confirmed the town met with Bill Durnford in April and sought clarification on Durnford’s intent and financial resources.

“Staff asked what financial resources would be funding this type of development, to which Mr. Durnford indicated he had a number of financial backers but was unclear as to who or what level of financial support was available,” MacIsaac told the Gulf News in the email response on behalf of the town.

MacIsaac added the town pointed Durnford towards government sources to avail of possible project funding, and went on to suggest a number of possible sites, including the former Bruce Stadium property, which might be suitable. 
MacIsaac also told the Gulf News, “Any town property would have to be published for public interest as there may be interest from several companies.  Mr. Durnford has suggested since that (April) meeting that he made an offer to purchase the property during this meeting. However, no staff in attendance at that meeting has a noted record of an offer to purchase the property.”

This differs from Durnford’s recollection, as he states that he made an offer of $50,000 for the land.

In an effort to move forward the town issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the property.

By the June 5 deadline the town had received just one proposal, from Durnford’s company Island Kicks International.

MacIsaac said the town preferred to issue a RFP instead of selling the land outright via public tender.

 “A public tender would be exclusively for sale of the property, with the town not typically having the ability to direct what type of development or extent of development would happen on the site, as the new owner could develop any number of permitted uses and/or discretionary uses within the designated land use zoning for that area,” MacIsaac explained.

Under a Request for Proposal, he said, the preferred development of the property is clearly stated and is done in conjunction with a development agreement, and all pertinent information (i.e. financial capability, experience, development strategy, etc.) from the proponent is submitted. The proposal is then evaluated based the information provided.
“An RFP is the preferred method used by a number of municipalities and organizations throughout Canada for obtaining professional services, equipment procurement or development projects,” MacIssac explained.

While the Town of Port aux Basques may prefer that method, it isn’t always necessary.

George Saunders of CMG Consulting Services in Bishop’s Falls is the planning consultant recommended by the town, and subsequently retained by Durnford, to prepare the RFP for the old Bruce property.

Saunders told the Gulf News he was excited when a developer approached him about building affordable housing on the southwest coast, something he believes is sorely needed in this region.

He has been involved in the construction of 400 units in 20 different municipalities throughout the province.
“We’ve been very successful.”

In a telephone interview with The Gulf News, Saunders said the approach used by Port aux Basques in this instance is not the kind of approach he is used to, and thought it was the more expensive route.

“They have their way of doing things, and other municipalities and private entrepreneurs have their way of doing things,” Saunders said, stressing this was not a criticism of Port aux Basques, merely an observation.

Although Saunders offered to meet with town officials in an effort to help resolve the issue and move forward, with Durnford withdrawing his proposal that never happened.

In rejecting Island Kicks RFP, MacIsaac confirmed the town made a counter offer.

“It was agreed that the submitted acquisition price was low and that a number of details were missing from the submission. However, a response was sent to Island Kicks International Inc. as the town reserves the right to waive any informality or irregularity in any proposal received. 

“The town provided a response to the company on June 30, 2017, which indicated that the submitted bid to acquire was deemed as being insufficient, and provided a counter offer.”

Almost a month after issuing that counter offer and with no written response from Island Kicks, the town issued another letter stating that if no written reply was received by Aug. 4 it would have to “close the application file due to a lack of interest from the proponent.”

Durnford admits in his response to the town, he lost his temper, writing, “You said in your letter if we didn’t respond by the 4th of August that it would show lack of interest on our part which is a pile of ****.”

He says by this point he was very frustrated.

After receiving Durnford’s letter of Aug. 4, which both parties admit was unprofessional, the town issued a last letter on Aug. 14 re-iterating its obligation to conduct business in the best interest of the residents.

The town, wrote MacIsaac, “ . . . has a responsibility to ensure that the best possible financial gain is realized for any property that is developed and is required to exercise its due diligence to ensure this is followed at all times.”

In his email to the Gulf News, MacIsaac said, “The requirements for submitting inquiries related to the RFP were clearly outlined in the document but were not adhered to and is acknowledged in his letter.”

On Aug. 17, Island Kicks International withdrew its proposal to develop in Port aux Basques.

MacIsaac says the town intends to issue another RFP following the Sept. 26 municipal elections.

“With the municipal elections closing at the end of September, it was considered best to wait for the new council to be in place in the event the new council members wished to provide input.

MacIsaac added, “There is an indication the federal government will be announcing a funding program on affordable housing this fall, which made it prudent to wait prior to issuing the RFP. If a company or developer needed financial assistance or a source of funding, federal funding sources would be available if they chose to make an application.”

He says the town would welcome Island Kicks to submit an application when a new RFP is issued.

It’s unlikely, though, that Bill Durnford will do so.

He’s already seeking out property for his affordable housing project in Isles aux Morts and the Codroy Valley.

Rosalyn.roy@gulfnews.ca

Twitter: @tygerlylly

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