Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

Slow talks sank Marco Polo, says developer
LOSING OUT: Barry Ogden says the project may have received millennium funding if the city was further along in its waterfront plan.

Times Globe staff writer

    If the city had its waterfront development plan in place, Marco Polo project developer Barry Ogden has no doubt that he would have received millennium funding to build the replica sailing ship.
    "It comes down to the land issue," Mr. Ogden said Friday after hearing about government documents that reveal the $1.2-million proposal was rejected because federal officials were not convinced the project would be built before the Canadian Millennium Partnership Program expires in March of next year.
    "In one sense, it's not all their [the millennium officials] fault because we're acting very slowly on the waterfront development. And because we're going very slowly there, we're losing opportunities."
    "All these studies and all this talk, if you don't act, it's worth nothing.
    "This could be done in nine months. The land is the issue."
    The documents, which were obtained by the Times Globe under the Access to Information Act, also show that officials were not convinced the money could be found. Without ownership of the land for the project, millennium officials said the project was only at a "developmental stage."
    Federal evaluator Horan Patrick also noted in the report that the city had pledged $600,000, while the program was limited to giving one-third of any project, or $400,000 in this case, leaving $200,000 unaccounted for.
    Mr. Ogden says while the group didn't include specific plans for raising the additional $200,000, it would not have been difficult to find the funds considering the donations they have received in the past.
    "People don't realize we've probably had $1.2 million eaten up in studies and design work ... most of that was raised privately," he said, adding that he thinks the credibility of his organization has been proven over the last decade.
    Also troubling, but not mentioned in the evaluation, was an internal study that estimated the cost of the project would be more than double the $1.2-million the proponents submitted in their application form. The study, completed by Godfrey Associates in October, estimated the replica would cost $2.755-million to build.
    Phase one, which included the construction of the 280-foot long land-based replica ship with masts reaching 170 feet in the air, would cost $1.8-million, the engineering study estimated. The remaining costs covered an interpretation centre, walkway system and landscaping costs in phase two.
    The estimate did not account for the acquisition of land.
    In phase one, the costs were estimated in the following way: foundation, $210,000; masts and rigging, $665,500; hull and deck, $459,500; decorative items $75,000; painting, $75,000; electrical work, $110,000; and a contingency reserve of $200,000.
    The actual submission for funding altered the estimates to four items: foundation $245,000; masts and rigging $789,000; decorative items $83,000 and painting $83,000.
    While it appears the engineering study was appended to the submission since it was included in the federal file on the proposal, there was no explanation for the changed estimates in the document.
    Mr. Ogden says costs estimated by the funding proposal are different from the Godfrey study because the study included building the interpretation centre and other phase two construction whereas their proposal did not.
    "It depends on what you look at," he said. "They included the interpretation centre and other amenities around the Marco Polo which could have come later after the vessel was built."
    "When you get the vessel built other things will follow," Mr. Ogden continued. "It would be a catalyst to getting other things going."
    He says you need attractions to get people to visit the city, and once they begin coming the funds to build the remainder of the project will surface.
    "Nova Scotia is having its largest tourist event in history on the water front," Mr. Ogden said. "It's all about tall ships, and where are we?"
   The Marco Polo project has been on the table for 12 years.