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Mudtown Station Brewery and Restaurant has had a highly successful opening season in a heritage train station on Owen Sound's harbourfront, and is a positive addition to Owen Sound.
On this there is almost universal agreement. Responses to questions to the City about the project seem to be - “It is a great, tax-paying business run by wonderful people.”

But noone is questioning that.

Instead they are asking these questions.

Is there any problem with City staff and Council members being investors in a private business that is a tenant in a City-owned building? Does it matter?

Promoting a private business in a city-owned building in order to draw attention to the Owen Sound harbour is a marketing decision. The Director of Community Services, Pam Coulter, whose family is invested in Mudtown, participates in those decisions with staff who report to her.

In this year's Owen Sound Vacation Guide, two full pages of text and photos – powerful content marketing - are devoted to Mudtown Station.
It is in fact the only private business mentioned by name in the entire 24-page publication, over 50,000 copies of which are distributed both locally and around the province in Escape to Grey Bruce. Other local restaurants report that they paid as much as $1500 for a half page ad in the same publication.
Mudtown continues to be featured on billboards, event advertising, paid blogs and Facebook ads, and the City's latest video promotion.

There would be no question about these marketing decisions, except perhaps from competing businesses, if Ms. Coulter's family did not have private financial interest in the business.

Councillor Brian O'Leary is quoted in a recent Sun Times article as saying that he had only heard that Mudtown was looking for investors a week before he met with Kloeze on June 13 this year. Ms. Coulter expressed interest earlier in the year, and her family began the process of purchasing shares June 11, 2018.
An invitation-only reception was held for City officials and potential investors at the CPR station on September 21, 2017. Mr. O'Leary and his wife attended that event. He responded to our enquiry:  “I was unaware the Kloeze’s were looking for investors at that time.”
Others in attendance that day have independently said that they thought everyone understood Mudtown was looking for investors.

As recently as 2016, in a lease negotiation for the CPR building that ultimately was ended by the prospective tenant, a base rent of $10 per square foot was to be charged “based on comparable rents of other commercial properties in Owen Sound”. In the 2017 staff report, “market rent” was listed at $8.50 sq.ft. Both reports were co-authored by Ms. Coulter.

There is no way to independently verify when either Ms. Coulter or Mr. O'Leary began to consider investing in any business at the CPR station.

Paul Patille, a professional Project Manager who is currently running for Deputy Mayor, requested public information about the CPR station renovations. His correspondence with the City is here.
When he asked for further clarification, he received an email which was clearly not intended for him, which explained why further information was not forthcoming.

“Hold off on this for now.  This is beginning to get a witch hunt smell to it.”

Mr. Patille captured the public sentiment we have heard at Owen Sound Hub - “It is an exciting bold move and hopefully, the beginning of recapturing the life of a beautiful waterfront with amazing potential developments for future commercial and tourist attraction points. Again, I congratulate the City on this project.”

But it is completely within the rights of citizens and voters of Owen Sound to expect openness and transparency. It is legitimate for tax-payers to question whether it is appropriate for senior City staff and City Councillors to invest in a private business on City-owned property when there are ongoing promotional decisions and public expenditures surrounding that business.

The City is holding a press conference on the subject at 1 p.m. today at the Temporary City Hall, second floor. The meeting is open to the public, and will be live-streamed on the Facebook page of CFOS.



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