An Affordability Issue: Property CEO

ASFA Meeting Dominated by Student Union Building Pitch

Adding two hours onto the Arts and Science Federation of Associations’ Council meeting on Nov. 11, Jonathan Wener, the chairman and CEO of one of the largest property firms in the city, told councillors that a proposed student union building was worth the price students would pay for it.

“Your investment in the university now will advance the value of your degree,” Wener said, before suggesting that the university’s standing in the Maclean’s University Rankings suffered as a result of Concordia not having an official student union space.

“Think of this project as your gift for common good and philanthropy for the future,” Wener said of the building, which was given a delivery time of 12 to 17 months.

Introduced at the meeting as an “alumnus and former student leader,” Wener also sits on Concordia’s Board of Governors and Real Estate Planning Committee. Canderel Property Management, Wener’s company, owns several buildings near the proposed student union building.

The CEO was invited to the ASFA meeting to pitch the student union building project alongside Concordia Student Union VP External and Projects Adrien Severyns.

“For the next two weeks, 24/7, do everything imaginable from a communications point of view to get the word out, get people positive and get them to turn out and vote ‘Yes,’” said Wener.

The referendum question at the end of November will let students decide whether or not to increase the existing $2.00 per credit fee levy to help finance the $50 million student union building.

“What we’re asking students to do is to increase the [fee-levy] amount by 50 cents and staggering the increase to be more fair to students,” explained Severyns. “Last year [the referendum question] asked for $2.50 straight up—and I personally don’t agree with this—so we’re taking this approach to be more fair.”

If passed, the staggered increase would climb to $4.50 per credit, or $13.50 per three-credit course by 2012—costing a 90-credit undergrad $405.

The total figure will not be included in the referendum put forward to students from Nov. 23 to 25.

ASFA councilors asked to know how the student union building would be financed and run.

“We have an affordability issue. We’re having trouble getting students to agree to 50 cents,” said Wener.

The CEO suggested retail opportunities and leases in the prospective site, estimated to occupy 20 per cent of the student union building, would help subsidize the building.

Wener added that once the fee levy was approved it would be in effect until the building was paid off, estimated at about 10 years.

The CEO seemed unaware that the existing $2.00 fee levy is set to expire in 2014.

The councillors were also informed that the university intends to take out a loan for the 25-year mortgage on the proposed building, which—for contractual reasons—they said they could not identify.

Michaela Manson, the representative for philosophy students, voiced her concern during the meeting that retail used to subsidize the building wouldn’t reflect the best interests of students, but “the bottom line.”

“It doesn’t seem like this space is really going to be ensured strictly for student initiatives,” she said, asking Wener and Severyns about what happens to current student spaces when they are forced to move into the building.

“We’re buying something that has enough vacancy,” was the response from the property CEO. “We’ll work it in.”

Besides the ambiguous details surrounding the location, referendum question and financing of the student union building, Manson took issue with the implied burden on councillors to spread the Yes Campaign without all the facts.

“These CSU executives were formerly ASFA executives and they were there to solicit our aid in this campaign,” Manson said. “The fact that they were using that affinity to garner support on this project made me and many councillors uncomfortable, considering a lot of major things were just glossed over.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 14, published November 16, 2010.