Business prof oversees fair sale of Calgary inner-city land

Calgary has hired James McKellar, a real estate specialist and professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, to oversee the fair sale of land that was once the site of the old General Hospital, reported the National Post Aug. 22. Still a rough gravel pit, the 37-acre downtown swath, called The Bridges, is seen as a fabulous opportunity for urban revitalization in the heart of the city. McKellar was hired because the last time city fathers let their imaginations soar over rejuvenation plans, the effort ended with the municipality coughing up more than $2 million to break its deal with private developers, said the Post. “It’s extremely unusual for a city to call in someone like me to oversee fairness,” said McKellar, who reviewed the scoring of bids on the first building phase, sold off last month.

But governments, he said, have good reason to employ such stringency. “I don’t believe in the old adage, ‘If we could only do it like the private sector.’ Cities need to adhere to more stringent rules than the private sector. The truth is, for cities, behind the scenes deal-making backfires,” he said. “At its most basic, real estate is this: You see a house, and you make a price offer, with some conditions. Then you see that the chimney isn’t right and you go back to the owner with a new price.” That’s all very well in the private sector, says McKellar. “But when the city’s selling, all of a sudden you find that by the time you’ve gone back and forth you’ve worked the price down, and you find that the price you’re accepting might actually be below [what was originally] the second best offer.” That, he says, creates the perception of “a smelly deal.”

Court gave politicians no breathing room in same-sex decision

The unusual wrinkle in the same-sex debate is that the Ontario Court of Appeal, when it overturned the traditional legal definition of marriage in June, gave the government virtually no time to react. “I was surprised, frankly, that the court did not suspend its decision,” said Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in a CP Wire story Aug. 21. Judges often suspend their rulings for several months when they invalidate laws, giving politicians a chance to draw up new legislation at their leisure. “That has certainly made the debate very difficult to carry on in Parliament, when things are already moving on the ground,” said Monahan.