Councillors cough up $300,000 to help the Sandbox Centre with cost overruns

City council rolls back annual partnership commitment by $10,000

Barrie City Council decided not to draw a line in the sand at Monday’s meeting and hold back on $300,000 in capital funding to assist the Sandbox, an entrepreneurial and innovation hub located downtown.

However, the City’s annual commitment of $45,000 to the organization will be cut by $10,000 in each of the next two years.

The Sandbox leases space from the City on the second floor of the transit terminal on Maple Avenue.

Councillor Gary Harvey managed to get an amendment to the motion to reduce the City’s annual operating commitment to the Sandbox to $35,000.

On its website, the organization says it connects people and their ideas to business resources.

Since opening in April 2019, the Sandbox has hosted 80 educational seminars, panel discussions and workshops, and held meetings and events which have attracted more than 10,000 visitors.

Harvey pointed out at last week’s council general committee meeting that the City had already poured more than $870,000 into the operation of the Sandbox.

“If $10,000 is going to make it or break it from their annualized budget, then obviously there should be concerns about their long-term sustainability,” said Harvey, at Monday’s council meeting.

Prior to Harvey’s amendment, Councillor Mike McCann spoke passionately about the work the Sandbox does with businesses and employees.

He asked councillors if they wanted to invest and assist businesses in Barrie.

“And if the answer is no, that’s not really one of our mandates, and maybe we just want to deal with infrastructure and garbage etc., then I can totally respect that,” said McCann. “But if the answer is yes, this council wants to invest in business, then I believe that the investment of $300,000 extra to the Sandbox tonight is a good investment.”

McCann urged council to consider the advantages the Sandbox will be able to offer to small and medium-sized businesses once COVID is over.

“And what’s happening right now, which I alluded to a little bit last week, is you’re finding long-term businesses that are here in Barrie that have been doing business the same way for decades and are now having to reinvent themselves,” explained McCann. “And they’re looking at some of the business leaders and not knowing how. And so here’s a model like Sandbox that’s going to be able to take these long-standing businesses in Barrie, that you all know, and are going to be able to rewrap and revamp their models so they can compete in the global market, so we can keep these businesses in Barrie and keep these businesses strong.

The amendment to rollback the City’s annual commitment to the Sandbox was approved by council, and the motion including giving the organization an additional $300,000 in capital funding also passed, with Councillors Keenan Aylwin and Ann-Marie Kungl voting no.