The news that Stratford council is now willing to discuss re-purchasing the Cooper Site is good news. (After all, they probably should have never sold it back in the 1990s.) As anyone in Stratford will tell you - they're tired of the eyesore and want the site cleaned-up and developed. It's also good to see the city getting out in front of the issue with the Cooper Site - for years, all they have done is played the re-action game with Lawrence Ryan, responding to his many off-colour and ridiculous claims. At least now they're forcing him to react for a change.
It will be interesting to see what comes of it. Former City Councillor Lloyd Lichti (a long time Lawrence Ryan buddy) has suggested the land is worth $800,000 an acre. He claims the Erie Street parking lot was assessed at this value when he was on council. Well I was on council at that time and I can tell you it wasn't assessed that high and, more importantly, that was a discussion held in-camera and wasn't to be made public as it hurts the city's negotiating position. But costing Stratford taxpayers money has never really been a concern of Lloyd's.
And, really, $800,000 an acre for land in Stratford? Stratford is not Toronto. Never mind the fact that this is a brownfield that will cost millions to clean-up, Lloyd has even suggested greenfield land in the city's north west is worth $800,000 an acre. There's something wrong with Lloyd's valuations.
At the end of the day though, there will also be something wrong with Lawrence's valuations. In the past his estimates for the sale of his property have ranged from $20 to $30 million. (He got the property essentially for free from Ray Jacobs back in the 1990s.) So in the end coming to an agreement is going to be tough.
But what this really is, I think anyway, is a prelude to the expropriation of the site. The city has to give an offer before they start the process of expropriation. If Lawrence accepted, or negotiated a reasonable offer, things would move quickly. But that is unlikely to happen.
The city has the power and a good legal case for expropriation - the current owner has been unable to develop the site, the university should be put in the core, and the core is in need of revitalization. These are the types of arguments that worked successfully for Toronto in its expropriation of the buildings/land required for Dundas Square. No doubt though the process will be long, but fear not - expropriation is a power the city has, so it will get the land, the only thing left to be settled will be the price (and the land can change hands before the price is settled).
In the end, there is only one place the university should go, and that is downtown. The price should be fair, but the price of neglecting the core will be much higher in the long run than dealing with the blight that is the Cooper Site in the near term.