The chair of Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury says comments made last week by Laurentian University chief redevelopment officer Lou Pagnutti regarding the university’s greenspace are “encouraging.”
As part of Laurentian University’s insolvency restructuring and filing under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), the university has undertaken a review of all of its real estate holdings (i.e. its buildings and property) to see if they can be “monetized.”
In July, the firm Cushman and Wakefield was selected to review Laurentian’s real estate holdings.
This situation has many Sudburians worried that Laurentian may sell off some of the greenspace surrounding the university to developers.
But comments by Pagnutti at a Laurentian senate meeting last week indicate he doesn’t personally see this happening.
Pagnutti was appointed the chief redevelopment officer (CRO) by the courts to assist Laurentian temporarily in its restructuring efforts.
He said he did not see the university getting rid of the greenspace so beloved by the community. Though he did not officially confirm, he did note that even zoning issues would make selling the space difficult.
“I would, and this is a personal opinion, I'd be surprised if there was a dramatic change in the greenspace,” Pagnutti said.
He went on to say “it's recognized that there's zoning with respect to greenspace. And it's not something that you can, you know, say ‘Hey, we're going to change the zoning on these things’."
The greenspace in question is more than 200 hectares of bushland and a network of trails on campus popular with recreational users.
Naomi Grant, co-chair of Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, whose group has been involved in the campaign to protect Laurentian’s greenspace, said Pagnutti’s comments show these efforts are making a difference.
She said those involved in Laurentian’s restructuring are aware that the community cares about the greenspace, and are willing to stand up for it.
“It was encouraging to hear Lou Pagnutti’s comments reported last week,” she said.
“He’s not the one undertaking the real estate review, and it’s not an official stance. But it still shows they’re aware of how the community feels about the space, and they’re aware. It will make it very difficult for rezoning.”
Grant said it’s not time to relax, though.
“I think everyone in the community who has been living through the CCAA process doesn’t have a reason to relax until it’s all over and done with,” she said.
“It has been an extremely intense process in all respects. We should continue to be heard and bring that awareness throughout the process, so it’s always present in the minds of decision-makers, and hopefully top of mind when they’re making their decisions and preparing their real estate review.”
Grant said the Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury has been bringing the community together in terms of speaking up on the issue, encouraging people to contact decision-makers on this process.
That includes Laurentian’s administration and board of governors, Greater Sudbury city council, the court-appointed monitor of LU’s insolvency restructuring (the firm Ernst & Young), as well as Cushman and Wakefield, which has been tasked with the real estate review.
Guided hikes through the Laurentian greenspace took place this summer in an attempt to raise awareness.
There is also a Facebook page, “Help Save Laurentian Trails and its Ecosystem,” which encouraged people to share their photos of the area. Grant said this page is not run by Coalition for a Liveable Sudbury, although the group supports it.
In a Aug. 24 report, Ernst & Young, Laurentian’s court-appointed CCAA monitor, actually brought up the fact that it had been contacted by numerous community members regarding the real estate review.
“Over the past several weeks, the Monitor has received numerous calls and emails from stakeholders expressing views in respect of whether LU should divest any real estate,” the report said.
“The Monitor notes that the Real Estate Advisor’s current mandate is simply to review and provide recommendations and it is not expected that any implementation decisions will be made until the full scope of the mandate is completed.”
Grant said she has asked Ernst & Young when the Cushman and Wakefield real estate review is coming out, but they are not providing this information.
“We have been made to understand that the real estate review might never be made publicly available,” she said. “It’s very difficult to know what information will be made available or when.”
Sudbury.com did find some reference to the ongoing real estate review in a summary of a Sept. 29 Laurentian property development and planning committee meeting, when interim vice-president, finance and administration Michel Piché provided an update.
The aforementioned summary is included in the package for the upcoming Oct. 29 Laurentian board of governors meeting.
The meeting summary states there are four phases to the real estate review, with the first two having been completed as of the end of September: project initiation, which includes gathering documents and doing site assessments; and a high-level space utilization study.
Other phases “look at the possibilities in terms of monetization, market assessments, and future capital plans.” A scenario was expected by the week of Oct. 22, with an “asset monetization strategy” around the week of Oct. 29, said the document.
In terms of any real estate sales, Grant said she’s not sure whether these will happen as part of the CCAA process or will take place after it has concluded, which is currently expected early in 2022.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” she said. “It’s really hard to know. It’s just such a secretive process, and doesn’t lend itself to community involvement. But we all can speak up, and that’s what people are doing, and will continue to do.”