At the last Committee of the Whole (C.O.W.) meeting on January 28, it was apparent that some councillors want to withdraw approval for the Water Park on Cobourg’s East Beach. A motion was made by Deputy Mayor Suzanne Séguin and then passed by Council that asked for a staff report on financial implications, safety concerns and legal impacts. At the next C.O.W. meeting on February 19, Director of Community Services Dean Hustwick will provide his 40 page report (plus appendices) which I will try to summarize – although it’s still long! Dean’s report refers to the various Master plans, discusses public support, reviews the consequences of changing the previous Council’s decision, provides the sequence of events leading to the decision, discusses the impact of the Water Park on the community, says that the Town does have confidence in the contractor, says that the proposed rates are affordable, reviews the financial implications to the Town, reviews the risks and provides three options.
Appendices to his report include copies of (1) the RFP, (2) the response by the Contractor (ATL), (3) the cancellation letter from ATL, (4) Aquatic Safety Audit and (5) a legal opinion about cancelling the agreement. You can access all documents on the Town portal here.
Summary of Staff Report
Dean’s report is very comprehensive so it is likely that the summary below will miss some of his points and perhaps the rationale will be incomplete.
Town master plans that involve the Beach
- 2015-2018 Strategic plan
- Parks Master Plan (2013) – encourages “active beach use”
- Recreation Strategy and Implementation plan (Dec 2016)
- Waterfront Plan (2018) – recommends expanding revenue generation opportunities to help pay for beach and harbour costs. Initiative 5.14 specifically recommended a floating playground.
- 80% agreed that Tourism is important to Cobourg’s economy
- 46% of businesses agreed that they either depend on or benefit from the trade from tourists/visitors
- 76% of residents agreed that tourists should contribute a larger share of improvements costs through enhanced Revenue Generating Opportunities
- 56% of residents and 72% of businesses agreed that the Town should further develop waterfront-based recreation activities as a source of revenue generation
- A survey of 500 visitors in 2018 showed that 51% come for the beach, 90% visited the beach, 70% are under 50 (that is, mostly families), 49% shopped and 60% visited a local food establishment.
Sequence of Events
- November 20, 2017 Town staff raised the prospect of pursuing a floating playground for Cobourg Beach through an RFP for the summer of 2018. There were no concerns raised, but the YMCA noted that lifeguard services would need to be coordinated between the YMCA and the floating playground operators.
- January 17, 2018 – Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee approve the idea
- January 29, 2018 – Committee of the Whole approve the idea
- February 7, 2018 – RFP issued. During the RFP period, the two organizations that ultimately submitted proposals to the Town of Cobourg contacted the YMCA regarding the possibility of contracting lifeguard services from the YMCA. Both companies informed the Town of Cobourg that those discussions were very positive.
- February 22, 2018 – RFP results posted on the Town’s website
- April 2, 2018 – Committee of the Whole approved the results of the RFP and the awarding of the project to ATL Distributing. Councillor Seguin moved that Staff negotiate a contract with ATL Distributing and suggested terms.
- April 9, 2018 – Council gave final approval of the project and the awarding of the contract to ATL Distributing. [Note that this vote was close – Deborah McCarthy, Suzanne Séguin and John Henderson were against. Ed]
- April 9 to May 16, 2018 – ATL and YMCA could not agree in time for the 2018 season so ATL was advised that it would need to hire its own lifeguards for the floating playground – five weeks before it was scheduled to open.
- July 10, 2018 – ATL informed the Town that although it had hired a manager and five lifeguards, it had exhausted all avenues to hire the additional lifeguards required to operate the floating playground. It was mutually agreed that the project would be postponed until 2019.
- January 9, 2019 – Deputy Mayor Seguin gave Notice of Motion that since the agreement had not been signed, the agreement with ATL should be reviewed with a view to possibly terminating it.
- January 14, 2019 – Council approved the Notice of motion
- January 28, 2019 – Committee of the Whole approved the Motion with a report due back on February 19. This meant that Staff had to report on legal and financial risks and implications if the project were to be cancelled by Council, all of ATL’s expenses to date, safety considerations, potential impact of the event on the beach, garbage and parking and commentary on the feasibility of Lake Ontario as a location for a floating playground. [There’s a report on this C.O.W. meeting here Ed.]
Impact on Community
- It would attract rather than discourage local use and tourism
- It would promote active living
- It would enhance utilization of the waterfront
- No concerns of significance were raised by the YMCA, Cobourg Police Service, Cobourg Fire Department, Parks Department, insurer, lawyer and the Emergency Planner.
To determine the community’s and the waterfront’s capacity to absorb new events and activities, one needs to consider the type and number of events already taking place in the community during the summer months. Cobourg already has many large school events/tournaments on the beach as well as the Country Wild Music Festival, the Busker Festival, Highland Games, the DBIA’s Food and Music Festival, the Lakeside Antique Car Show, Waterfront Festival/Canada Day, Sandcastle Festival/Sidewalk Sale and Ribfest.
Even with approximately 30,000 people or more for the Sand Castle Festival/Sidewalk Sale on the peak day and approximately 20,000 – 25,000 for Waterfront/Canada Day there was still a lot of free space on the beach.
Dean’s report includes photos showing the beach with a lot of remaining capacity on many days in the summer.
ATL assumes in its business case an average of 250 users per day (200 on the large waterpark and 50 on the children’s waterpark) for an estimated 64 operational days (bad weather days excluded). The large waterpark will have an estimated maximum number of users at any given time of 100 and the small waterpark a maximum of 30. Even if the daily numbers were increased significantly, the floating playground business is unlikely to strain the community’s infrastructure or parking any more than small special events and certainly much less than large events. Downtown and waterfront parking are ongoing and long-term concerns that need to be addressed. ATL has agreed to maintain the portion of the beach in which it is operating and ensure it is clean.
Appropriateness of a Floating Playground at Cobourg Beach
Negative impact will be minimal because the size of the two waterparks will be small in relation to the size of the beach and the overall waterfront.
Cobourg Beach is approximately 490 meters long and as much as 100 meters deep. The proposed floating playground will be located at the eastern end of the beach near Lifeguard Station 4 and will represent only 12% of its length. This means that 88% of the beachfront will be outside of the floating playground zone, ensuring that Lake views will be protected from the vast majority of the beach and Victoria Park.
Does the Town have confidence in the ability of the contractor to execute its agreement in a safe manner?
Short answer – Yes.
Location on Open Water (Lake Ontario)
Is Lake Ontario an appropriate body of water for a floating playground because of its size and its wind, waves and storms? Obviously the two bidders to the RFP believed it’s financially viable. Similar parks in international locations on oceans and large lakes (e.g. Lake Michigan) etc have proved it can be done safely.
Affordability to users
Pricing is an operational and business issue for ATL, not for the Town. But prices ($15 to $35) are comparable to other family oriented activities such as Ripley’s Aquarium (youth $25) – Toronto, Canada’s Wonderland– Vaughan ($56), Calypso Waterpark – near Ottawa ($40), Green Canoe Outfitters – Cobourg ($36 to $90 – canoe and kayak rental), Brimacombe – Orono (child $43), the Roc – Georgina ($25), Cobourg Highland Games – Cobourg ($20)
Would there be any consequences for the Town if it were to change the previous Council’s decision?
- Cobourg would miss out on an opportunity to attract more tourists and get some revenue from them.
- There will be no cost to the Town but instead a share in revenue – 10% of all revenue from the project goes to the Town.
- See also risks and options below.
The Town’s Insurance company saw no problem although with all insurance claims, a claim could potentially impact future premiums. ATL says that all patrons would sign a waiver and they will have a $10M insurance policy.
See letter at this link which states that the Town has the ability to terminate its agreement with ATL. However, it cautions that case law and considerations of both good faith and procedural fairness require that the Town provide ATL with another opportunity to meet the terms outlined in the RFP.
See Options below for more on this.
- Allow ATL/Summer Water Sports to operate the floating playground for two years (with an option to renew for up to an additional three years if mutually agreed to). Based on ATL estimates, this would provide revenue to the Town of approximately $56,000 over two years.
- Terminate the agreement with ATL/Summer Water Sports and negotiate a financial compensation package to cover some or all of ATL’s expenses ($40K) and potentially also lost profits ($43K) and other gains. If the Town and ATL were to engage lawyers to help negotiate this settlement, additional costs would need to be allocated. See Legal advice letter here.
- Terminate the agreement with ATL and prepare for potential litigation. If ATL and/or Summer Water Sports pursue litigation and end up in court, legal expenses for the Town alone could range between $30,000 and $60,000. If the Town loses the litigation, it could potentially face costs in the realm of those outlined in Option 2 plus potentially legal costs for the plaintiff.
It seems that not having signed (executed) an agreement does not let Cobourg off the hook. It is expected that on Tuesday, Council will vote on this subject and then it will go to the regular Council meeting on February 25 for ratification.
- Floating Playground – Full report
- Appendix 1 – RFP
- Appendix 2 – At the Lake Distributing Response to RFP
- Appendix 3 – Announcement by ATL of postponement to 2019
- Appendix 4 – Aquatic Safety Topical Audit Report
- Appendix 5 – Letter of Legal advice from Suzanne E. Hunt at Templeman
Previous Cobourg News Blog reports on the Water Park
- Water Park may not Happen – 29 Jan 2019
- First Idea from Waterfront Study – 23 January 2018
- Water Park to be ready for summer 2018 – 4 April 2018
- Water Park Approved in Close Vote – 10 April 2018