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Convention centre denies delay claim

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THE Winnipeg Convention Centre is refuting claims its $181-million expansion is threatened by the sluggish development of the hotel component of the project.

Convention centre president and CEO Klaus Lahr said Wednesday the facility's expansion is slightly ahead of construction schedule, as foundation and concrete work of the new wing south of York Avenue has commenced.

The convention centre is expanding to the south in order to add 342,000 square feet of space to the existing 492,000-square-foot building -- an addition intended to allow the public facility to remain competitive with others of its kind in Canada.

The expansion will add 131,000 square feet of convention space and make the Winnipeg facility the fourth-largest in Canada, after convention centres in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

The city and province each committed $51 million toward the project, while Ottawa pledged $47 million. The convention centre is responsible for raising $17 million of its own, while the remaining $16 million is supposed to flow from property taxes generated by a new hotel that would rise to the north of the building, across St. Mary Avenue.

Stuart Olson Dominion Construction won the bid for the expansion job by promising to build that hotel, initially in partnership with a Dallas-based hotel developer called Matthews Southwest. The initial bid called for the hotel to be built at no cost to the public.

After Matthews Southwest left the project in 2012, downtown development agency CentreVenture negotiated the $6.5-million purchase of the Carlton Inn, which sits on Carlton Street, across St. Mary Avenue from the convention centre. CentreVenture accessed a city line of credit in order to make the purchase.

Earlier this month, CentreVenture development manager Tom Janzen told city council's downtown, heritage and riverbank committee there still was no deal to build a hotel at the site. Coun. Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands), who sits on the convention centre board, said the timeline was tight for completing the hotel in time to generate funds for the project.

Lahr said Wednesday while he is not in charge of the hotel development, he is aware talks are underway with several hotel developers and potential brands. An announcement is expected this fall, he said.

"The expansion is not threatened in any way. It is an entirely separate component," he said in an interview.

CentreVenture, meanwhile, received city council approval in December to increase its line of credit specifically in order to purchase the Carlton Inn, according to notes provided to members of council. At the time, CentreVenture president and CEO Ross McGowan described the purchase as a "strategic investment" that was not connected to the convention centre expansion.

CentreVenture previously purchased two other downtown hotels -- the Bell on Main Street and the St. Regis on Smith Street -- as part of an effort to eliminate public-intoxication problem spots in downtown Winnipeg.

The Carlton Inn sits at the west side of the sports, hospitality and entertainment district (SHED) CentreVenture is carving out of an 11-block section of downtown that includes the convention centre and the MTS Centre.

Since the entire Carlton Inn site may not be needed for the construction of the new hotel, a portion may be sold off to recoup the $6.5-million cost, which covered the property as well as the hotel business operation.

The Carlton Inn site itself had an assessed value of $1.9 million before the purchase by CentreVenture.

Nonetheless, officials at city hall and CentreVenture have rejected the assertion the hotel purchase constituted an additional public subsidy for the convention centre expansion.

In July, RBC purchased the naming rights for the convention centre.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2013 B4

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