A new financing arrangement at The Research Park of Sarnia-Lambton will give it better footing and insulate taxpayers from risk.
A year ago, the Research Park underwent drastic restructuring after its biggest tenant pulled out. Staffing was cut and a new administrator was hired to find new tenants. It also asked Lambton County – the owner of the park through a development corporation – said it could not repay its debt and asked for one year to turn things around.
The new executive director, Tom Strickler, says things are looking up. Occupancy at the Modeland Road facility went from about 40 percent to 75 percent now – and that means more money coming in. He expects by the end of the year, The Research Park could be 85 percent full.
And he says the Bowman Research Centre’s occupancy is also up six fold. “We are establishing ourselves as a leader in the biochemical industry, expand that into the chemical industry,” says Strickler.
The Research Park will begin repaying its debt soon under a new plan recently approved by county council. John Innes, general manager of financial services, says the board of directors will be going to the open market to secure a new mortgage for The Research Park instead of borrowing from the county. Innes expects the rates will be cheaper and The Research Park will have to repay about $550,000 less a year.
“We are transforming the makeup and nature of debt and the timing and the nature of payback of the debt to become more flexible for the corporation,” says Innes. “The county is no longer the middle man…(the Research Park) will stand and it will fall based on the merits of its own operations.”
But Petrolia Mayor John McCharles was concerned taxpayers could still be liable for the debt. “If we turn off the lights…it all comes back to us,” he suggested to Innes at a recent county council meeting.
But Innes says this arrangement means if there were a problem, creditors could only be paid from the direct assets of the business park. “It is still owned by the county but debt is limited…it’s more of a business-like model.”