Former premier Danny Williams has confirmed for The Telegram that he is the developer behind a major project which has a value of between $4 billion and $5 billion in the west end of St. John’s.
The Telegram broke the story last month when St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe told the paper a proposed development between Southlands and Cochrane Pond would be about the size of the Town of Gander.
“It’s preliminary, but it’s imminent,” Williams said Tuesday. “Because of the growth here in the city, and because the city basically has nowhere else to grow, there’s a lot of pent-up demand for this area, for all the various uses.”
“It’s something that I have been putting together for a good 15-plus years,” he added.
Williams said he bought the land — about 1,400 acres —in the late 1990s, largely from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp., but put the project on hold while he was in public office.
He said his blind trust did acquire some land while he was in office from two private developers as well as some other small parcels of land
“But for me, from my perspective, I had no involvement whatsoever in that,” Williams said. “The project was on hold until I finished politics.”
When Williams bought the land, it was on the outskirts of the capital city.
“Since then, of course the city has moved to it. Donovans (industrial park) has been built up completely and right now that’s the only area of expansion for the city,” he said.
“Over the life of (the development it) will create as many person-years of employment as the (Lower) Churchill would,” Williams continued. “It’s a very good project for the province because, quite frankly, it’s labour intensive.”
The vision for the overall development, which could take between 10 and 20 years to complete, would mirror the Stavanger Drive area.
“There’s significant interest in the retail side and there’s significant interest in the industrial side,” said Williams. “If there’s a demand for industrial, then we would move on the industrial right away.”
For the multi-use development to proceed, the province would have to change legislation to allow development above the 190 contour — an elevation which is currently protected from development because water would have to be pumped up into the area.
But Williams said there are already a couple of examples of development above the 190 — one in Mount Pearl and another in Paradise — so he doesn’t anticipate any problems.
Once that is done, infrastructure has to be put in place first, from roads and sewer lines to water towers and pumping stations.
While the city has yet to receive a formal proposal from Williams, if all works out, the former premier hopes to begin construction on the site sometime next year.
He said the basic engineering work is being done now and he’s anxious to move ahead with the project.