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'Back to the River' project is dead in the water
LONDON, ONT. -- The divisive Back to the River project will not be going forward as planned.
The multi-million dollar funding commitment by the London Community Foundation (LCF) to redevelop London’s riverfront at the Forks of the Thames has been withdrawn.
“We’re dealing with a whole new reality in our world, not just London but internationally. It was a decision we had to make,” explains LCF President and CEO Martha Powell.
Instead, planned donations will flow towards other LCF initiatives including a new focus on the housing crisis.
The Back to the River project began as a design competition in 2015. The winning design, dubbed ‘Ribbon of the Thames’ included a boomerang-shaped bridge, an amphitheater, and terraced landscaping to improve access to the river.
During multi-year budget deliberations, the total contribution sought from municipal coffers was pegged at $14.1 million.
Councillor Shawn Lewis argued against contributing public dollars towards the project during recent budget deliberations.
“I think there was really not that much support in the community in the first place,” says Lewis. “Certainly, COVID-19 has highlighted that there are many more pressing needs in the community to address.”
During 2016 municipal budget deliberations, city council earmarked $5 million to support the Back to the River project, but no money has yet been dispersed for construction.
Lewis concedes some of that money will be needed for riverbank stabilization and the removal of invasive species, but he thinks the remaining dollars could help address City Hall’s $23-33 million deficit - caused by the pandemic.
“Now this frees that money up to deal with other priorities, not the least of which is the deficit we’re facing as a city,” says Lewis.
Powell admits it was a difficult decision to walk away from the Back to the River project after years of effort by countless supporters, but donors wanted to see their money used to help the community.
She adds the decision may not be forever, “Four years, five years from now, maybe we revisit this. We’ve got beautiful designs, we’ve got a developer that was very interested in it.”