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Vancouver wants charter changed to borrow $458 million

Vancouver councillors today voted unanimously for a measure calling on the province to consider changes to the city's charter that would allow the city to potentially borrow $458 million to help complete the Olympic village.

Mayor Gregor Robertson told reporters earlier this morning that he would be presenting a motion in the special council meeting to formally ask the provincial government and opposition to hold a special legislative session on the issue.

Specifically, the council measure asks the province to grant the city authority to borrow money without holding a referendum. Currently, the city presents such requests in its capital plan, which is presented to voters every three years.

The mayor said the city will be looking for the power to borrow the $458 million he estimated was needed to complete the project. Robertson said the city won’t necessarily seek the funding, but wants the right to do so to strengthen its hand in ongoing negotiations with Fortress Investment, the project’s main financier.

“What we require right now is a tool so that we are able to negotiate more fully with our partners in this and make the best possible deal for Vancouver taxpayers,” Robertson said.

Fortress originally promised a $750 million construction loan to Millennium Development for the athlete’s village. So far, less than half of that has been paid out and Fortress stopped making payments in September 2008.

Robertson said the city is seeking “stability” above all else in its negotiations with Fortress. Though he said the intention of the city is not to buy out the New York-based hedge fund, he suggested that future financial arrangements might not involve the company.

“We are going to use all the means we have to negotiate the best deal for taxpayers,” he said. “If Fortress is part of that as they have been in the past so be it.”

Non-Partisan Association Coun. Suzanne Anton said Vancouver won’t likely get funding from the provincial or federal governments if the city can’t arrange a financing solution with Fortress.

“We’re not asking for money cap in hand,” Anton said. “We’re not anticipating right now a cash infusion from either the federal or provincial government.”

The NPA councillor added that Mayor Robertson has been a bit alarmist by suggesting that Vancouver taxpayers might have to pony up the full cost of the athlete’s village.

“When he says taxpayers are on the hook for a billion dollars, that’s far from the truth,” Anton said. “There is an asset there which will be sold by the end of the day.”

She said that 36 per cent of the 750 condos have been sold so far. Robertson said the city has roughly $40 million in deposits from $240 million in condo presales.

-- Geoff Dembicki is a staff reporter for the Hook.

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