By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is down but not out.
After going several rounds with the Town of St. Marys – including requesting assistance for funding from town council for improvements, composing a proposal for a new-and-improved facility with professional help, to a review of that proposal from Watson & Associates Economics, and a special meeting of the council to evaluate – the fight went to a decision on Wednesday.
Though the Hall’s proposal gave it an edge early, the town council and its independent review won the latter rounds, and with just one councillor voting on the side of the CBHoFM – opposing six members of council who voted to deny the request for funding – the Town of St. Marys finished with a technical knockout of its opponent.
“We’re disappointed in the decision of council,” said Adam Stephens, Vice Chair of the CBHoFM’s Board of Directors, immediately following the meeting. “The entire plan was designed to create the best Hall of Fame in St. Marys possible. Certainly, we’ll have to meet now as a board and consider the comments made by council members, as well as our current overall planning that is always ongoing, and discuss where this takes us.
“At this point, our entire focus was on this plan so there’s really not been any consideration for how we would react to the different scenarios that might have unfolded at the meeting.”
The CBHoFM’s plan for the future – which included 179 pages and 11 chapters detailing additional buildings, impressive facilities, much more room for the collection and display of plaques for those who have been inducted and who will be inducted in the future, with upgrades to the land and recreational facilities in the area, and more – requested $550,000 from the Town of St. Marys in capital, and annual funding of $150,000.
The capital money was to be pooled with the $760,000 already donated to the Hall for the improvements if the CBHoFM could secure enough provincial and federal government grant funding to fulfill the financial needs of the $6.5 million project.
Watson & Associates began their review by stating that the Hall had overestimated its attendance projections, especially in the category of those potentially visiting from outside of Ontario. In providing their assessment of the analysis, Watson reduced attendance potential between 40 and 50 per cent from the Hall’s proposal, having a substantial negative effect on every further estimate and the resulting financial impact.
Members of town council were reluctant to give an outright positive response to the request, and were in varying levels of disagreement with the amount of money they would be comfortable giving to the project and for what purpose.
Councillor Bill Osborne was one of the most vocal to speak on the proposal, citing concerns over what the town council would actually be deciding upon during the special meeting on Wednesday. Osborne stated that he originally was led to believe that he would just be giving a yes or no answer to whether or not he felt St. Marys should assist the Hall in some way, but instead needed to prepare to answer to the specific dollar amounts for funding, which he deemed too aggressive.
He questioned whether it was in the best interest of the town to contribute, and during the official vote said that he didn’t believe voting against the proposal would affect the future of the Hall, despite immediately doing so.
Town council member Don Van Galen was the most vocal council member in opposition of the plan, and found a problem with the idea of funding the museum as a private venture, stating a fundamental problem with the approach, though he wanted to be clear that he had no problem with the idea of partnering in recreation.
Van Galen later continued to say that this isn’t the type of funding the municipality should be involved in, and if the Hall is applying for government grants, those too could come at the expense of the municipality.
Councillor Carey Pope brought an entirely new issue to the table when she asked whether the Hall had originally promised the town that it would not be a tax burden, some decades ago when the move from Toronto was proposed. Neither representatives of the Town of St. Marys nor the CBHoFM could answer the question because no one involved back then or involved currently.
Pope supported ideas from the proposal for improving trails in the area and adding a pavilion on the grounds, but not the funding requested for all of the purposes asked for.
Councillor Tony Winter cautioned against any council members deciding to go ahead with the proposed funding plan, comfortable with only saying yes or no to helping the Hall, but not to the dollar amounts, which was not an option in the end.
Without discussing a deviation of dollar amounts, or a counterproposal for the Hall that could be used as a form of negotiation moving forward, Councillor Van Galen ended the meeting by putting forth a motion to deny the request for funding, halting any further conversation. Winter seconded his motion.
“That part of it wasn’t very well flushed out at this meeting, and nor would we expect it to be, because it gets pretty detailed,” Stephens said. “But those sorts of discussions are what we want to have, and trying to figure out what certain statements by council members mean will be important as we go forward.”
The only member of town council who opposed his motion was Lynn Hainer, an ex officio member of the CBHoFM’s Board of Directors, who requested that town council continue collaborative efforts with the Hall, support the Hall, and carry on the discussion. Al Strathdee, mayor of St. Marys, is also an ex officio member of the Board.