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Wasaga officials met with downtown consultant months before awarding $350,000 contract

In Council Watch
Jan 25th, 2017
Mayor Brian Smith -Examiner photo

Andrew McNeill says ‘common practice’ to reach out to consultants for input on RFPs

By Ian Adams Wasaga Sun

Wasaga Beach officials met with the consultant brought in to lead the downtown master planning process months before they were hired to find out what went wrong with a previous vision for the beachfront.

Mayor Brian Smith and several senior staff met with FORREC representatives in October, 2015, to talk about Blue Beach Avenue, a concept plan for the main beach commercial area developed by FORREC and commissioned in 2008 by the former owners of property bought by the municipality in 2015 for $13.6 million.

The town’s director of economic development and tourism, Andrew McNeill, said he was handed a copy of the Blue Beach Avenue plan soon after he was hired by the town in August, 2015, and reached out to FORREC executive vice president Steven Rhys, according to emails obtained by Simcoe.com in a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy.

“I considered it prudent to reach out to FORREC to see if they would be willing to meet and share any insights as to why the Blue Beach proposal failed,” McNeill told Simcoe.com in an email. “I believe it is prudent and in the best interests of the taxpayers of this community to understand the reasons why previous developments may or may not have worked. To create a master plan that can be implemented, town staff need to understand the market forces that are at play in this community and this region.”

Council will be presented with a draft downtown master plan at its Jan. 26 committee of the whole meeting, along with options on how to proceed.

McNeill, along with Mayor Brian Smith, CAO George Vadeboncoeur, and the municipality’s planners Doug Herron and Nathan Wukash, met with FORREC representatives “to understand from FORREC’s perspective why the Blue Beach proposal did not come to fruition.”

McNeill also sought Rhys’ input on the draft terms of reference for a consultant to undertake the development of a Downtown Master Plan last December, after council’s committee of the whole approved several recommendations related to the creation of Wasaga Beach’s downtown in December.

FORREC was hired in June for $350,000.

McNeill said it’s common practice in municipalities to consult with the private sector on the development of study terms of reference, and the terms of reference for the downtown were drawn on his nearly 20 years of experience in the public and private sector. He said he doesn’t recall if Rhys — or several other consultants he reached out to — provided any input of substance.

The request for proposals for a consultant to lead the downtown master planning process was published in March.

On June 13, council’s committee of the whole accepted a recommendation to hire FORREC at a cost of $350,000. The company was one of 10 that submitted a bid to undertake the master plan process.

FORREC’s selection came after the company’s bid tied with another firm, Brook McIlroy, based on criteria that included firm experience and qualifications, quality of the proposal, project understanding, and cost. Both firms were invited to make presentations to the evaluation team headed by McNeill.

“Both Brook McIlroy and FORREC Ltd. provided noteworthy presentations and clearly addressed the abovementioned items,” McNeill wrote in his June 13 report to committee of the whole. “However, it was clear to the panel that, while both teams are highly skilled and would be suitable candidates to deliver the Downtown Master Plan, FORREC Ltd. and the comprehensive team they have established, is better positioned to provide the town with a Downtown Master Plan that will provide a blueprint for developing a unique and functional downtown that will attract private sector investment and be highly implementable in the immediate future.”

After council made the decision to hire FORREC, McNeill emailed Rhys to inform him of his company’s successful bid.

“Thanks for all your coaching!” Rhys responded.

McNeill said he provided both consultant groups with “neutral guidance as to how they should structure their presentation as per the questions that town staff forwarded to both teams.

“I believe that is what Mr. Rhys is referring to,” he said.

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