London Community Foundation pulls planned funding for Back to the River project

The London Community Foundation says investing in affordable housing and recovery from the novel coronavirus pandemic are urgent needs, and as a result, the foundation is pulling its plans to fund part of the controversial Back to the River project.

In May 2019, city staff estimated the total cost of the river revitalization plan $14.6 million, which includes partial removal of the Springbank Dam, construction of a suspended walkway, community gathering space and amphitheatre along the Forks of the Thames in the downtown core. The London Community Foundation had pledged $2 million towards the cost of the plan.

On Wednesday, the LCF confirmed to the city that it would no longer be contributing to the plan.

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LCF president Martha Powell says priorities for the foundation began to shift roughly six months ago as investing in affordable housing grew as a major concern for the city, but that the pandemic forced the foundation to reexamine its priorities.

“We knew we had to respond, we couldn’t not respond, and we formed a committee to adjudicate grants that we received from the Lawson foundation and the Westminster College foundation along with funds that we were able to put into the pot, to respond to urgent need in the community,” she explained.

“We got a $900,000 grant from the federal government for responses granting to COVID and I think those two pillars sealed the deal for us that we had to really set priority on those important issues in the community.”

Powell said the LCF went to its board and had “a fulsome discussion.”

“We’ve worked long and hard on Back to the River. It’s been five-and-a-half to six years that we’ve been working with the city, in great partnership. But we realized we needed to focus our priorities on these two issues.”

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After consulting with the board, the LCF then had conversations with donors that had committed to the Back to the River project, where Powell says they ultimately agreed with the decision to focus funding on affordable housing and supporting the non-profit sector in the wake of the pandemic.

However, Powell says she believes there will be a time in the future when the project will be revisited.

“We have a vision for the city you know being a real go-to, and downtown, in particular, being a go-to place for people in the community, not just people who live along the river,” she said.

“It’ll surface again, I really think it will. But definitely, the priorities of our city have changed.”

— with files from Global News’ Devon Peacock.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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