City inks Big Ben Ski Center to second year under P3; details kept private

The entrance to the Big Ben Ski Center along Seventh Street West in Cornwall, Ont. on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. The city has signed on for a second year to operate the hill with property owner Paris Holdings. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – The City of Cornwall has signed off for a second year on a private-public partnership (P3) to operate the Big Ben Ski Center with the owner of the property – Paris Holdings.

But details on how much it will cost city taxpayers, the performance of the ski center last season and the terms of the deal are being kept private for now.

City council met behind closed doors Tuesday about the operating agreement and then later passed the bylaw during its public council meeting to seal the deal. There was no discussion during the public meeting.

Based on a staff report from September 2018, the ski hill was expected to cost the city $110,000 to run for a season. The city budgeted $80,216 this year.

In an interview with Cornwall Newswatch, Coun. Dean Hollingsworth says he’s comfortable with a second year contract.

“I think it’s a good facility and I think there is a certain cost to anything we do. It’s a good program. It’s convenient for people…my kids quite frankly did the program at Big Ben. I think it’s a good investment,” Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth was asked if the private meeting and passing the bylaw was an appropriate level of public transparency.

“Ultimately, if the taxpayers track it, it comes at budget time anyway so there is transparency in the sense (for) that particular budget (item),” the councillor added. He said that the city doesn’t normally “publish every dollar” it spends with the private sector, calling it “the nature of business sometimes.”

Asked whether Big Ben was profitable, he said “I don’t know yet. I’ll tell you in March.”

Speaking with Newswatch, Mayor Bernadette Clement says the city will have to “make some formal announcement so that we are speaking as we should and not violating any in-camera rules.”

“Activities for kids, we lack in that department in this community. I hear that constantly from kids,” the mayor said.

“I’m not going to change my position on the importance of Big Ben and keeping that open. I feel that’s something we should continue to make sure is accessible for the youth of our community,” Clement said.

The mayor refused to say whether the Seventh Street West attraction is profitable but that it was “worth it for the kids. I’m not going to give you any specifics. I’m going to repeat that this is a project that is worth it for the kids of the community,” she told Cornwall Newswatch.

The agreement had been on the table two weeks ago but Coun. Eric Bergeron asked for it to be deferred because there was no report on the operating and financial performance of the ski center after the first year of the P3.

The city went into the partnership after then-Couns. Andre Rivette and David Murphy effectively closed the hill in March 2018 by cutting all operating funding during a budget committee meeting. The funding vote was later reversed and the city went to an RFP but the long time operator – Leader Sports – seemingly soured on how the whole situation was handled, said it was not interested in running the hill again.