The City of North Vancouver has halted its plans to close the Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre in the coming months and will keep the facility online until its new one opens after the city says its deal with a developer fell through.
The city issued a release Wednesday announcing the decision to terminate its offer to lease the land to developer Darwin Properties, which was set to take possession in January.
“Bottom line, the developer did not meet their financial obligations under the agreement,” said Mayor Linda Buchanan. “Council has given the direction that the centre will remain open. … Plans for the development of the new recreation centre have not changed, and we are on track to begin construction in 2022.”
Darwin president Oliver Webbe, however, said the dispute stems from decision of conscience he made specifically because he wanted to see the rec centre left open.
“We heard loud and clear that this was going to be a serious problem for the community and they were upset about it. That was critical to our family,” said Webbe, who grew up playing hockey at Harry Jerome. “This, without question, was not a financial decision, and the city received confirmation of that in writing from our bank. It was 100 per cent a decision that the Webbe family made because we were concerned about the closure of the community centre.”
The financial implications of the collapse of the deal are not yet clear. The city’s plan has been to use the revenue from a long-term lease of the Harry Jerome Neighbourhood Lands to offset the $181-million cost of the new rec centre. In 2018, council voted to rezone the land to allow for roughly 800 new homes plus commercial space in two highrises and a series of smaller buildings, and Darwin was selected as the partner through an open bid.
Buchanan said the city will have to seek at least short-term financing to keep construction moving on the new rec centre. In October, the city’s director of strategic and corporate services told council that financing the project with loans alone would result in an 11.5 per cent increase in property taxes.
The city still has a 99-year lease with Darwin to develop the first phase of the overall project, which includes a six-storey seniors housing project on the former site of the North Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, just south of the rec centre. That lease provides $50 million for the ongoing planning and pre-construction work for the new Harry Jerome.
Council has been facing protests and petitions from Harry Jerome’s user groups, who have been calling on council to keep the facility open. They will be getting what they wanted, even though it came in a roundabout way, Buchanan acknowledged.
“I’m pleased. I know that’s what people wanted. That's able to happen because we find ourselves in this position,” she said. “Closing the centre was never an ideal scenario, but it was a strategy in order to be able to advance that contract and have the money in hand.”
Earlier this year, Darwin redesigned a 113-unit rental building slated for construction on the Harry Jerome lands to save a large cedar tree on the property. It too was the subject of community protest.
"It's important to us that we listen to the community in every project that we're involved with, and if we don't feel that the right decision is being made, we have to react accordingly,” Webbe said.
Buchanan said she expects council will have some next steps to debate early in 2022, although developing the Harry Jerome Neighbourhood Lands to fund the rec centre is still very much part of the strategy.
Webbe said he has every intention of his company being the one to redevelop the land once the new Harry Jerome is online, and they continue to negotiate with city staff.
“We believe those terms and conditions are still binding, which is why we are continuing those negotiations,” he said.
The cities denies negotiations are ongoing.
Buchanan added she stands by council’s 2020 decision to pare down the scope of the rec centre and its cost, taking out the curling rink and shrinking the pool from 50 metres to 25.
“We are in a better financial place. We do need to look at what our options are now. Did I want to be in this place? No, but we are in a much better place to be able to manage this,” she said.
The city was in the process of trying to relocate sports and programming at Harry Jerome to other facilities on the North Shore. It will take some time to reorganize, but Buchanan said she expects most of the existing user groups and programs will still have a home there.
The new Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre is slated to open in 2025.