Indecent Proposal

I had this great idea. It was 2005 and I wanted to build a multi-plex hockey rink for the City. I assembled a piece of land, structured the financing and partnered with a non-profit operator such that all profits would be cycled back into the operations to keep the cost to Edmonton Minor Hockey as low as possible. It was a beautiful model that would fix the cost of minor hockey for the next 30 years at a price lower than it cost today. Just beautiful.

All I needed was the City to consolidate their operations from adjacent single-pad arenas and guarantee a lease for the equivalent amount. I couldn’t figure out why on earth they wouldn’t support my proposal.

Looking back, I realize I was wrong. So young; so naive.

Last week, the City of Edmonton made a business decision to consolidate office space which facilitated the development of a new tower in our downtown core. They were first approached by an unsolicited proposal that demonstrated the value of consolidating space, as an enabler to a new development. Like me, for the longest time the proponent couldn’t figure out why on earth the City wouldn’t support such a logical proposal.

But the City of Edmonton did the right thing.

It took an extra six months, but the City took the time to issue an RFP (Request for Proposal) and appoint an independent fairness advisor to oversee the process. They knew making a decision, any decision, with a private firm would come with the risk of massive public scrutiny.

Much can be learned from my little story and that of the office tower. Specifically, as we enter an era where public/private partnerships become more common, the private sector needs to understand and respect that whenever public funds (no matter what size) are being used to enable a development (no matter what size), the project will require: (1) a public RFP process; (2) a fairness advisor; (3) full transparency from the private sector proponent.

The City of Edmonton did the right thing, and it is important that the business community understand that the days of full transparency are here to stay. Backroom deals will be publicly scorned. Businesses will shoulder the consequences. And political leaders will wear the judgement. Most importantly, attempts to work around the transparent process harm our reputations and slow down the pace in which novel ideas can be realized in our city.

If we learn to do it right, we will accelerate growth. If don’t, we will live with saga after saga.