Mayor letter

Re: Ferry No. 5 / Seven Seas

There has been considerable coverage in your paper over the past few weeks regarding Ferry No. 5, now known as the Seven Seas Restaurant. Unfortunately, the communication to date has been restricted to editorials and letters to the editor as well as lawyers in court. Many have suggested what the City’s role and responsibility should be in saving the vessel, but a proposal has yet to be made to Council.

Despite the communication gap, I am very pleased to see the formation of a group of community leaders intent on developing a viable business solution. I sincerely hope they are able to raise the private sector funds necessary to achieve the best solution.

This issue is far from the black and white community heritage question suggested in your pages. For instance, the integrity of the vessel itself is in question with differing professional opinions. Although there is a suggestion that the City has overstated the level of risk the vessel represents, the supporters themselves have said that the cost of fixing the vessel below the waterline is $300,000 plus an unknown amount required to make it useful. In any event the City was always willing to allow the vessel to stay subject to the owner providing appropriate security, however the owner was unable to do so.

We should all remember another very important item. The City’s dispute with the owner began because of default of a commercial lease. I won’t go into the details of the case but the record shows that successive councils have renegotiated the lease to ease the financial burden on the Seven Seas and have been dealing with other aspects of the matter since 1992. These facts are documented and are well known to several members of the No. 5 Ferry Preservation Society, but for reasons best known by them, they have chosen to leave this information out of their comment.

The Seven Seas occupies a taxpayer owned asset, namely the water lot at the foot of Lonsdale. Despite repeated requests, no payment has been made for that occupation for the past two years. The land has real commercial value and the taxpayers have a legitimate expectation that the City will manage the asset prudently.

We have just recently completed a public survey of capital spending priorities. Our citizens have told us what they feel is important. The City has made significant commitments to the expansion and renewal of community facilities. The artificial turf field will be built this year and all going well, sports teams will be using it this fall. A new community centre will be built in Lower Lonsdale – a facility that will serve a neighbourhood that has waited long enough for a fair share of accessible service. In the survey, expansion of the Library emerged as the highest priority and we are working hard to find ways of funding this important community resource. Also ranked high is the upgrade of our firehall to full earthquake preparedness standard. After this week’s earthquake, I think we can all see why it’s so important. We have not yet funded that work yet but clearly, that must be done.

The point here is that the City has committed nearly $20 million to these items. New projects must be carefully developed and substantiated in terms of cost and benefit. Wherever possible we will look for partnerships and commercial revenues to achieve the objective. An example of this is contained in the recently approved terms of reference for a land use study for the foot of Lonsdale. We have explicitly said that commercial uses could continue there, possibly including Ferry No. 5, as long as the operator deals with the risk and liability concerns.

Hopefully this letter will explain the City’s position and will provide a little balance. Again, I am very pleased to see the formation of the No. 5 Ferry Preservation Society and I wish them the best in their efforts.