By Noella Ovid
Ryerson’s reputation could be at risk due to the university refusing to release information on its partnership with the city of Niagara Falls and an unnamed local developer for the Niagara Falls/Ryerson Innovation Zone (NFRIZ), according to Niagara Falls city councillor Carolynn Ioannoni.
Ioannoni said that to date, Ryerson has not provided any information about the application that was put forward to The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev) to bring an innovation centre to downtown Niagara Falls.
According to Ryerson’s public affairs office, the proposed innovation centre would bring start-ups, corporate partners and local community organizations together. The hub would also energize the growth of the downtown core of the city and the surrounding Niagara Region.
FedDev is one of six regional development agencies that helps support economic and community development by providing services such as investments, programs and expertise.
“I, for the life of me can’t understand what [Ryerson] is trying to hide [by] refusing [to give] council members who are a partner for this application any information,” Ioannoni said.
The current proposal was not approved for federal funding, according to Ryerson media relations officer Lauren Clegg. Ioannoni said that Ryerson needs to supply the application and explain the process that took place from start to finish for it to move further ahead.
Ryerson’s public affairs department wrote via email that the school didn’t intend to keep the project secret. “The university met with numerous stakeholders in the region to generate letters of support.”
The university received letters of support from nearly 20 partners to push the project forward. The investing partners in the project are Ryerson, the city of Niagara Falls, a local developer and FedDev, according to the public affairs department.
Ioannoni reported to the Ontario Ombudsman that her own council had a private meeting regarding the partnership in February 2015. She said the council went into the meeting being told it was about property, but much of the discussion was related to the proposal.
The Ombudsman’s office concluded that the city violated the Municipal Act when it privately voted in favour of directing the council to proceed with the partnership, Ioannoni said.
Ioannoni said the mayor denied asking the council to commit $10 million during the closed session, despite what the letters of commitment stated.
Ioannoni claims that Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati asked for council’s support for the development with two other partners. But she said at the time, Diodati wouldn’t disclose the partnerships because of a confidentiality agreement. “He said ‘I’m not going to tell you. I need you to trust me on blind faith.’”
However, Ryerson professor and former vice-president research and innovation Wendy Cukier was interviewed for an article, published in The Globe and Mail last November, highlighting the partnership and why Ryerson’s involvement is significant.
“We are also looking at how to strengthen their connections to the Greater Toronto Area, and to national and global markets,” Cukier said in the article.
Ioannoni said she doesn’t understand why Ryerson wouldn’t give her any information while Cukier could speak about it publicly in the article.
The Eyeopener reached out to Cukier for comment. She declined and redirected the request to Ryerson’s public affairs department.
“We wanted to make sure our stakeholders and supporters of the projects were informed before we made a public statement,” they wrote via email. “Ryerson University remains committed to continued work with the city of Niagara Falls and the project partners.”
But Ioannoni said that the process has been “very mismanaged.”
“This whole process has tainted Ryerson down here,” she said.
With files from Keith Capstick.
*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated: Niagara Falls councillor says Rye was secretive about new innovation centre in her ward. Niagara does not have wards. The Eyeopener regrets this error.