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  • Writer's pictureBilly Beringia

City awards $1.47M contract to worst bidder

WHITEHORSE - Design and supervision contract goes to most expensive and unreliable firm

An architect rendering of a proposed addition to the new City of Whitehorse operations building

On April 14, Whitehorse City council voted to postpone the award of a $1.47-million contract to design and oversee the construction of an addition to its new operations building.

The vote to postpone came after some councillors expressed discomfort with the recommendation that Kobayshi & Zedda Architects (KZA) should be awarded the contract.

KZA's proposal was $400,000 more expensive than anyone else. That's enough money to make the accident-plagued Second Avenue a lot safer, according to assessments the City carried out in 2019.

As well as the inflated price-tag, new information came to light showing that KZA had an unfair advantage over all of the other bidders.

This is because KZA held insider knowledge as a result of its previous contracts with the City between 2015 and 2019.

Mayor Dan Curtis said the recommendation to give KZA the contract was the right one.

"The City follows the Yukon Government model of giving taxpayer dollars to the most expensive contractors" Curtis explained "as long as they have a proven track-record of mis-management."

"The City follows the Yukon Government model of giving taxpayer dollars to the most expensive contractors, as long as they have a proven track-record of mis-management." - Mayor Dan Curtis

Curtis was referring to the Yukon Government's policy of only choosing contractors that have gone over-budget in the past and are likely to do so again.

Master plan for 'box city'

The 2019-2029 Whitehorse Master Plan was passed in March 2019 and sets out a vision for a city made up of tall box-shaped buildings that will block out cultural heritage, First Nation histories and anything resembling wilderness.

"KZA's design has the right look and feel for Whitehorse" Curtis told fellow councillors at Tuesday's meeting. "The City needs more depressing and oppressive architecture."

"The City needs more depressing and oppressive architecture" - Mayor Dan Curtis

Antonio Zedda and Jack Kobayashi are the two businessmen behind KZA. Together they own Horwood's Mall, Baked Cafe, 360 Design Build and a number of publicly-funded buildings in Whitehorse.

According to Curtis, the firm's unique "urban-cardboard-box ©" design is inspired by IKEA's business model and aesthetic.

KZA's Ikea-inspired 'urban-cardboard-box ©' design blocks out the historical MacBride Museum, Whitehorse

Affordable housing revenue stream

In 2019, Zedda and Kobayashi opened their $3M 'affordable housing' project at 305 Hawkins Street.

The Yukon Government gave the businessmen $500,000 through their corporation 360 Design Build to carry out the project and the City of Whitehorse gave them relief on property taxes.

As well as adding to their individual wealth, the 305 Hawkins Street funding allowed KZA to say it cared about affordable housing while also renting the newly-built units out to its own employees.

This gave KZA's Baked Cafe on Main Street a strong competitive advantage over other food establishments in Whitehorse who struggle to give employees more incentives to stay.

Aside from 305 Hawkins Street, Koybayashi and Zedda were also the two main consultants overseeing the design, construction and budget of the Yukon Government's Housing First affordable housing units on Fifth Avenue and Wood Street.

According to figures released by the Yukon Housing Corporation, the project was a disaster and went from an initial approved budget of $2.7M to a final construction and design cost of $4.3M.

By going 1.6 times over the original budget, and delaying the opening by five months, KZA became responsible for one of the most poorly-managed construction projects in Yukon history.

Kobayashi & Zedda's disastrous Housing First building on Fifth Ave and Wood St

Tiny homes, big profit

Koybayashi and Zedda also received $400,000 from the public to build an $800,000 'tiny homes' project on Sixth Avenue.

The deals struck wth the governments of Yukon and Canada say the businessmen get to keep the project profits and don't have to pay back any of the grant.

A statement released by the Yukon Anti-Homeless Coalition in February 2019 said "the irony here is that politicians are putting millions of affordable housing dollars into the pockets of the same wealthy landlords who control rental rates in Whitehorse."

Survey says: worst toilets in Yukon

In February 2020 the online travel company TripAdvisor published the results of its survey for "worst visitor facilities in Canada." The KZA-owned Horwood's Mall was voted "worst toilets in Yukon" by visitors to the territory.

"Based on the scarcity of toilets and their condition, these landlords clearly don't give a crap about people" a reviewer from Vancouver wrote. "This building is apparently owned by an architectural firm! I wouldn't hire them to design a straight line!"

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