Kelowna bookstore owner Michael Neill has taken a few lumps in his battle to save a portion of waterfront from development.
But on Monday, when the fight to create greenspace on 2.3 acres along Cedar Avenue resumed in city council, his word came under fire.
“Certain area residents have been verbal spokespersons for an anonymous donor. Statements have been made about the donor and his/her desire to work with the city,” said Derek Edstrom, the city’s manager for strategic land management.
“Staff can confirm that the donor has not come forward to speak with the city and the media, and apparently will not come forward in the near future. Hence, the validity of (the donor) can’t be confirmed or denied.”
Edstrom continued, explaining that there was a secondary donor city staff has been speaking with, but they were unable to nail down what they’d be willing to donate, let alone when, and that donor had nothing to do with Neill.
With that issue out of the way, Edstrom recommended the process to rezone the properties pick up where it was last April, before news of a mystery donor scuttled the process.
It was a welcome direction forward, to Neill, who said the donor story was, regrettably, overblown by the media.
“I’m disappointed that this was ever made public…People make these decisions without thinking through all the way,” he said, stressing that he stands by his original assertion that there was a donor—they’ve just chosen to not come forward.
The regret, he explained, stems from the fact that the issue of the park fell to the wayside, in favour of discussion about the donor.
“The message was lost,” he said. “We need to separate two issues into two piles. First, we need to decide what you want to do with your portion of the city, then once you’ve decided, we will work with financing.”
As for the mystery donor who apparently offered the $2.3 million required to have the land turned into a park space, Neill said he will continue to protect their identity.
And the identity of the secondary donor, who city clerk Stephen Fleming announced knowledge of on April 18, remains a mystery to Neill.
“I was as shocked as everybody else (that) Monday when Stephen Fleming got up and announced this,” said Neill, explaining he knew that his donor wouldn’t be making his presence known.
“I was scratching my head, because I was thinking, ‘I’m not connected with this donor we’re talking about.’”
It took Neill a few days to piece together what happened, but he remembers receiving a phone call from an elderly woman, who had a son not living in Kelowna, who wanted to contribute to the park.
“So I told her, she should contact the city and let them know,” he said. “I didn’t know if it was $500 or what that they were willing to donate…I didn’t even take her name down.”
He “alluded to” city staff early on that the potential donor was separate from the person he mentioned, but they didn’t take heed until recently.