Cambridge Handing Conestoga Its Cash Early

Conestoga College says its new applied research hub, set to open in west Galt in June, is gathering unexpected momentum.

Cambridge city council didn’t want to mess with that.

So, with a 6-2 vote on Tuesday night, council agreed to a college request that the city immediately pay the final $400,000 of a promised city contribution to the applied research hub, which will be part of the Grand Innovations tech incubator in a former Tiger Brand building.

The sped-up payment to the college was difficult for council to reject.

“I think we’ve got to show support for it,” Mayor Doug Craig told members of the general committee.

“I think we have to be very careful here that, psychologically, we don’t undermine a great project on that side of the city.”

The city originally pledged $500,000 over five years. The first $100,000 was paid last year with another $100,000 due each year.

But the college says it is accelerating move-in plans for 13,000 square feet within a corner the coming Gaslight District development, which will plunk two tall towers overlooking an old foundry site on Grand Avenue South. It’s trying to keep up with the quickening pace of money and research activity pouring into the new applied research hub.

Last month, the province pitched in $1.3-million for applied research projects at the new Conestoga hub, including one focused on cybersecurity. Donations, cash and in-kind, from businesses standing to benefit from the applied research matched that amount.

The first 25 Conestoga students could move in before summer.

Councillors Mike Devine and Jan Liggett spoke against handing the college the full $400,000 early. Both councillors suggested council should stick to the original agreement, approved in late 2016.

“I think they’ll be able to get it other places,” Liggett said.

The $500,000 is still to come out of an Industrial Reserve Fund. That money, a city report said, is to be replenished after the Gaslight District, to be completed by 2020, delivers an additional $570,000 in annual property tax revenues for the city. But Devine said it could be five, six or seven years before the city sees that money.

“If it was $4 million or $5 million, I would have more concerns,” Craig said. “But not this amount of money.”

The $125-million Gaslight District could bring more than 600 new residents and hundreds of jobs to the Galt core, according to estimates from an accounting firm hired by the developer.

From the Waterloo Record