Brampton’s latest mess: Brown tries to further delay ‘critically’ needed downtown revitalization work
“I beg of you, I beg of our staff, to figure out how to coordinate with the Region the work that needs to be done to create the foundation for further development, not to delay it.”
Rick Evans, board member and secretary of the Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) expressed his frustration with City Council Wednesday. For the second time in two weeks, Evans shared his dismay with Council’s inability to bring any relief to downtown business owners working under broken promises and crumbling infrastructure.
They were promised a plan to redevelop the downtown in 2011 and it was all set to go in 2018, after seven years of detailed planning and collaboration between the City and Region of Peel.
Called ‘Downtown Reimagined’ the project would have replaced sewer and water mains while also beautifying the streetscape, upgrading buildings and investing in numerous aesthetic features to finally lift the crumbling city centre out from decades of neglect.
On May 16, 2018, after years of consultations and planning, City Council unanimously approved the Downtown Reimagined plan.
“Exciting transformation is coming to downtown Brampton!” the City exclaimed in a press release blasted out the same day.
An information centre was opened right next to City Hall. Giant murals announcing the upcoming project were mounted downtown.
An information centre was opened and large banners appeared in the downtown in 2018 promoting the Reimagined plan that has yet to happen. (Promotion from City of Brampton/Photo from The Pointer files)
A tender was put out by the Region of Peel, the main proponent, and detailed engineering drawings for the infrastructure work were presented to the public along with renderings of what the future downtown would look like.
The bids came in and the work was set to begin. It would be completed in 2021.
But later in 2018 Patrick Brown ran on a campaign of fiscal belt-tightening, promising tax freezes, and one of his first orders of business as mayor was to immediately cancel the plan.
The Region of Peel eventually pushed forward with its plans to replace the dangerously deteriorating sewer and water lines it maintains underneath the surface of the Four Corners.
Its work is set to start this summer.
But in an unexpected twist, after a group of downtown merchants and property owners recently demanded that Brown restart Downtown Reimagined in coordination with the Region’s work, he instead called for the postponement of the upcoming infrastructure replacement.
What has unfolded is the latest chaos inside City Hall. Instead of listening to downtown businesses and residents, Brown and two downtown councillors, Rowena Santos and Paul Vicente, have thrown the entire project into turmoil.
On Wednesday, they demanded the work be held up until plans for a Main Street LRT are dealt with, confusing those who simply want the downtown revitalization to finally go forward.
Mayor Patrick Brown has attempted to delay vital infrastructure work in Brampton's downtown. (Photo from The Pointer files)
Evans pleas didn’t help, as Brown pushed a motion to ask the Region of Peel to scrap its upcoming infrastructure work until decisions around the LRT are made.
Brown continues to cause confusion, making conflicting promises to different groups that he can’t keep.
Downtown Reimagined was part of the city’s 2040 Vision document, approved by the current council and endorsed by Brown as the plan for the future. It does not contemplate a Main Street LRT.
Confusing matters even more, Vicente and Santos, who are loyal to former mayor Linda Jeffrey, are now pushing her Main Street surface alignment for the proposed LRT.
Brown, meanwhile, after making promises to many downtown home and business owners in 2018 to stop a surface route, is pushing an underground, tunnelled Main Street LRT option.
There is no funding for either.
His commitments to downtown revitalization are now being exposed, as he has already once cancelled the plan to achieve his tax freeze, and is now trying to delay the project again.
Brown’s Wednesday motion was the latest chaotic example of how the entire downtown plan has been handled. On the Friday before the May 12 Committee of Council meeting, he added a motion calling on the region to postpone its work. Days later, the motion was changed, allowing the region’s work to proceed but demanding the Mainstreet LRT be accommodated.
The new motion, approved Wednesday, asks for the Region’s work to be “paused” to accommodate an LRT on Main Street that has zero funding, which even Brown had to admit during the meeting.
The mayor’s mismanagement of another crucial city file to achieve his demands for tax freezes has left many business owners and residents wondering if they should just give up on the area.
Peter Howarth is a downtown resident and past president of Brampton’s branch of CARP, formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, which has roughly 3,000 members.
“I moved into the downtown area about a year-and-a-half-ago in part because of what was promised as far as revitalization. But what we’ve seen is constant promises and no action. Red herrings are used to postpone the plans. I’m not even sure there’s any money budgeted for the project.”
Brown has tried to claim that engineering issues and the previous council’s desire to rush the project are the reasons he had to put the brakes on. But business owners and residents aren’t buying it.
“Constant excuses are given to postpone the much needed work in downtown Brampton, such as The LRT decision, other infrastructure needs etcetera,” Howarth said. “Another promise that hasn’t been kept, just like the hospital.”
He said he’s even more concerned with the latest failure to live up to promises because more and more downtown businesses where he lives are leaving.
“If I was younger, I would be watching this carefully and I would be making a decision about whether I need to leave Brampton.”
Renderings of Downtown Reimaginged showed a vibrant, rejuvinated city centre. It has yet to come true. (Renderings from City of Brampton)
The Region of Peel confirmed that a motion will be brought before regional councillors and they will decide whether or not to postpone the badly needed infrastructure work.
City of Brampton staff would have 90 days to work with regional and other partners to prepare a plan that would accommodate revitalization work and a possible Main Street LRT. Jayne Holmes, who leaves her job this week as acting commissioner of public works and engineering, explained to councillors that Brown’s motion would be difficult to accommodate because there isn’t even a preferred LRT alignment yet.
Staff said the environmental assessment (EA) for the Hurontario LRT extension into downtown up from Steeles Avenue (where it will end unless Brampton finalizes a route and secures funding) wrapped up earlier this month and they’re now working to get feedback from residents. It could be September before the report is presented to council. The EA is examining three options: a surface option, a loop and an underground tunnel, the option proposed by Brown, with a $1.7 billion price tag.
The City still has to act on downtown flood mitigation, as it has not set aside its share of funding to fix the problem caused by Etobicoke Creek. It’s another example of Brown’s failure to understand that tax freezes won’t allow for investments needed to move the downtown forward.
Holmes explained that the agreed upon designs for Downtown Reimagined and the Request For Proposals did not consider the LRT extension because a majority of council at the time decided against a Main Street LRT in 2015 due to concerns that the floodplain designation would prevent growth and ridership along the corridor.
Defending his decision to cancel Downtown Reimagined, Brown claimed Wednesday the project was put off on staff’s advice “that the due diligence had not been done.” He did not offer a wider explanation. None of the staff reports in 2017 or 2018, including an extensive workshop presentation to council in May of 2018, included any mention of the project being rushed or timelines for needed engineering work being squeezed. Brown previously claimed more engineering work on underground waterways needed to be completed, but that was done in early 2018.
Rick Evans, board member and secretary of the Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA) expressed his frustration with council’s lack of action. (Photo from The Pointer files)
It’s unclear what Brown has done during his two-and-a-half-years as mayor to get the downtown project on track. Now, right before the Region’s work is set to begin and facing pressure from downtown business owners, he’s scrambling to justify his decision to postpone investments as the area continues to decay.
Brown claimed funds are not an issue. “Council’s already allocated $275 million towards this downtown revitalization,” he said Wednesday. “It’s not an issue of financing, those funds are set aside.”
There does not appear to be any money set aside for the project, after the bids for Downtown Reimagined came in higher than expected in 2018, ranging from $36.2 million to $44.4 million just for the City’s share. Brown cancelled the plan after the cost was revealed.
Only $200,000 was set aside in the 2021 budget to conduct a report on how to proceed, after staff continuously delayed bringing one forward in 2019, before the pandemic hit and Brown ignored the issue.
The Pointer asked him to clarify his statement about available funds. “These questions are better suited for Alex Milojevic who is ccd. All the best,” Brown wrote in his emailed response, directing the questions to the City’s transit head. It’s unclear why he would answer, as the Downtown Reimagined project was never managed by the transit department. The Pointer did not receive a response from Milojevic ahead of publication.
The Pointer separately sought clarification from the City’s media relations team. City spokesperson Marta Marychuk said the number Brown used isn’t attached to any specific project and a list of investments she provided does not refer to the Downtown Reimagined work.
“The Mayor was referencing the various Downtown revitalization projects over the last few years and budgets, and so no single document will contain all these initiatives.”
Many of the initiatives have not even moved forward and some don’t have any funding attached to them.
Last summer, the Region decided to move forward with its downtown infrastructure work, at a cost of $6.7 million. The work was expected to begin in July. The water mains (originally installed sometime between 1969 and 1995) are “ticking time bombs” as described by Councillor Vicente in 2019 when he learned of all the infrastructure backlogs that pose a serious threat to the city. Now, he wants the region to delay its work to accommodate a Main Street LRT plan.
The Region of Peel proposed extensive infrastructure work a year ago to be completed in downtown Brampton. (Map from the Region of Peel)
He and Santos spoke passionately about a new plan that shouldn’t be rushed, to ensure work in the downtown core is completed properly and disruption to downtown businesses is kept to a minimum. “We are trying to do it properly and not make the same mistake as last time and try to rush it through,” Santos said. It’s unclear what mistakes she was referring to and what “rush” occurred, as the previous council approved the project unanimously and staff did not raise concern after seven years of planning with the Region.
Putting off the project once more potentially paves the way for another tax freeze, something Brown has desperately wanted. He has openly talked about how successful former Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion was in her political career after she famously froze taxes for years, something the city is still paying for.
Any postponement to the downtown infrastructure work means it will cost more money down the road and will create disruption that could be minimized if the work is done now, during the pandemic, while businesses are not operating at full capacity.
Councillor Jeff Bowman took issue with the timeline proposed for the possible delay. “We’re just kicking this football as far as we can down the field and we seem to be doing it over and over and over again,” he said in frustration during Wednesday’s meeting.
Waiting for a hypothetical LRT that has no funding isn’t logical to him. He said the City has been working with Metrolinx to get two-way GO Train service since the 90’s.
“If the previous council had decided to do nothing until we got two-way all day GO, downtown would be a disaster right now,” he said. “I think it will actually kill the downtown, putting this off.”
Evans said the same. “Our businesses are victims of this pandemic and the survivors shouldn't now be choked by another postponement of downtown revitalization. It’s been 20 years in the waiting… [There’s] no excuse to postpone revitalization regardless of the future plans for LRT.”
It’s clear businesses can no longer wait for the City to take action.
Vera Krasavac, the owner of the Queen Gypsy restaurant in the downtown core, said last week the constantly delayed plans have made her seriously consider moving. “When you have a business coach, they’re saying to you if you make a mistake once then it’s okay, but if you do it twice, then it’s stupidity. So it would be my stupidity to even imagine any future here.”
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