WINNIPEG — The Canad Inns plan to build a Winnipeg water park has dribbled down the drain, after Mayor Sam Katz grew impatient with the slow pace of development at the hotel chain's Polo Park property.
In June 2008, following a five-month search for a private partner to build an indoor water park, the city offered Canad Inns $7 million to build a $43.6-million water park alongside a $12.6-million hotel expansion at Polo Park.
Ten months later, with no construction underway, the city is looking for someone else to build an aquatic facility, Katz announced on Tuesday after pulling the plug on Canad Inns.
"Things were taking longer than they should have," the mayor told reporters outside his office. "I never really got the news, per se. When I spoke to them, I was trying to move this forward and find out what obstacles there were. In my opinion, we should have been moving forward by the end of (2008) or sooner, and it was taking a little longer."
The origin of Winnipeg's water-park plan dates back to 2004, when a newly elected Katz cancelled former mayor Glen Murray's plan to build a bus corridor alongside Pembina Highway.
After successfully lobbying Ottawa and Manitoba to redirect $43 million in rapid-transit money toward recreation, Katz and city council decided to spend $9 million on pool upgrades at Kildonan Park.
That plan, however, proved unfeasible in early 2008, when the cost of the project skyrocketed. So the city decided to spend $2.8 million on Kildonan Park improvements and offer $7 million to a private water-park partner.
Canad Inns won the ensuing competition over rival plans for water parks at Kilcona Park in northeast Winnipeg and Waterfront Drive in South Point Douglas. But city hall sources say the chain did not submit construction plans and Katz said he had trouble discerning Canad Inns' intentions.
"It was my opinion it was time to get this moving," said the mayor, who hopes to see the city launch a new search for a water-park builder in early June, pending council approval on May 27.
"I'm disappointed we lost the time. (But) the next proposal may be even better, who knows."
Canad Inns president Leo Ledohowski declined interview requests.
In a statement, his company said "all issues could not be resolved in the appropriate time frame."
It's unclear whether those issues included an unresolved community-access agreement, which was a key component of the deal with the city. When the water-park plan was debated at city council, left-leaning politicians decried the potential admission price as beyond the means of ordinary families.
Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who voted against the water park, says the city now has an opportunity to build a more inclusive aquatic facility -- or at least place the potential tourist attraction downtown.
"We've taken money from rapid transit, put it into a water park and now we're nowhere further ahead," she said. "We still haven't spent the money from 2004. Where's the social benefit? This should be spent on recreation that's accessible to everyone."
Katz, however, said the community-access agreement will be written into the new expression-of-interest document that could be issued as soon as June.
The project remains just as viable right now as it was in 2008, he said, noting construction inflation has eased during the recession.
Creswin Properties, which was behind the unsuccessful Waterfront Drive water-park bid, will wait for the expression of interest to decide whether to bid again, spokesman Bruce Leslie said.
Canad Inns "will also watch with interest for a new EOI," according to the company's statement. The chain currently faces a backlog of projects, including a new hotel at Health Sciences Centre, the revitalization of downtown's Metropolitan Theatre, the renovation of Portage Avenue's Radisson Hotel and a new hotel project in Bismarck, N.D.
The status of the Polo Park hotel expansion is unknown.
Katz's not-so-wild ride
The slow journey toward a Winnipeg water park:
2004: Newly elected mayor Sam Katz cancels former mayor Glen Murray's plan to build a bus corridor alongside Pembina Highway and begins lobbying the federal Liberals and the Doer government to divert the money elsewhere.
2005: Ottawa and Manitoba agree to create a $43-million kitty for recreation and leisure upgrades in Winnipeg.
2006: City council decides to spend $9 million of the recreation cash on pool improvements at Kildonan Park.
January 2008: The city cancels the Kildonan Park plan due to cost overruns. Instead, council votes to spend $2.8 million on Kildonan Park pool and spray-pad improvements and to search for a private partner to build an indoor water park with the help of a $7-million city grant.
June 2008: The city chooses to give the $7 million to the Canad Inns hotel chain, which wants to build a $43.6-million water park as well as a $12-million hotel expansion at its existing Polo Park property. Unsuccessful applicants include David Asper's Creswin Properties, which wanted to build along Waterfront Drive, and a Kilcona Park project.
September 2008: In an unrelated move, the city and province announce a new $327-million bus-corridor plan. Katz later asks Ottawa for $600 million to accommodate ultra-lightweight rail.
April 2009: The city pulls the plug on the Canad Inns water-park plan.
May 2009: City council will vote on a plan to issue a new call for private companies to build a water park.
June 2009: If council approves, a formal expression of interest will be issued.
Canad Inns spread too thin?
Projects in the works for Winnipeg's largest hotel and hospitality chain:
Health Sciences Centre hotel: Canad Inns plans to spend more than $30 million on a 191-room hotel next to Siemens Institute for Advanced Medicine, under construction on William Avenue. Work could begin in June.
Metropolitan Theatre rehabilitation: Canad Inns purchased the Donald Street heritage theatre from CentreVenture in 2007 for a reputed $70,000 and plans to spend more than $10 million converting the 90-year-old property into a restaurant and nightclub. Exterior work could begin before the summer.
Radisson Hotel renovation: Canad Inns purchased the 263-room Portage Avenue property in 2008. Renovations are required.
Public Markets site: St. Boniface land formerly known as the Canada Packers site sits empty following Canad Inns' purchase in 2007, when the chain sought to build a new stadium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Polo Park hotel expansion: The status of a proposed $12.6-million hotel tower at Polo Park Canad Inns is unknown, following cancellation of the water park.
Bismarck, N.D. hotel: Canad Inns president Leo Ledohowski has expressed interest in building a hotel-and-hospitality complex in the North Dakota capital.
-- Compiled by Bartley Kives
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