In a pair of moves affecting one of Winnipeg's largest real estate companies, city councillors torpedoed a proposed land swap with Shindico Realty and also cancelled the firm's contract to manage a downtown office tower.
During a three-hour meeting Tuesday, council's property committee effectively killed a three-for-one land swap that sparked 21/2 months of political havoc at city hall.
The deal on the table, negotiated initially by fire-paramedic Chief Reid Douglas, called for the city to acquire the Taylor Avenue site of the new fire-paramedic Station No. 12 from Shindico in exchange for the old Station No. 12 on Grosvenor Avenue, the soon-to-be-decommissioned Station No. 11 on Berry Street and a vacant parcel of city land on Mulvey Avenue East in Fort Rouge.
The proposed swap has been on hold since Mayor Sam Katz ordered a review of the city's fire-paramedic station replacement program in September. While that review has yet to start, the deal effectively died when the property committee directed city staff to try to buy the Taylor Avenue land from Shindico.
"What we're trying to do here is end the uncertainty associated with building a fire hall on land we don't own," committee chairman Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said Tuesday.
The committee vote, which does not require council approval, calls for both the city and Shindico to obtain independent market value appraisals of the Taylor land. If the two parties wind up with a price within 10 per cent of each other, the midpoint between the two estimates will be the sale price.
If the spread between the two estimates is more than 10 per cent, an independent appraiser will decide between the two values. Council will then be asked to approve the final sale price.
The plan will only proceed if Shindico agrees to it. An official with the company declined to comment.
Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt said he hopes Shindico will find the plan acceptable, adding he believes property director Barry Thorgrimson has spoken to the firm.
If Shindico does not wish to negotiate, the city has the option of expropriating the land, Browaty said.
"I think this will bring some closure to the issue," he said of the purchase plan, adding he remains eager to see the results of the fire-paramedic review, which will examine the processes that led to the land-swap proposal.
Browaty, Wyatt and Couns. Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) and Grant Nordman (St. Charles) also voted to declare the two old fire-paramedic stations and the Mulvey land surplus to the city's needs. Pending council approval, all three properties will be sold, with the proceeds winding up in the city's land operating reserve.
St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, council's new protection chairman, said he approves of the property committee decision because the city isn't going to tear down the new Station No. 12 on Taylor Avenue.
But River Heights Coun. John Orlikow, whose ward includes Station No. 12, said he's concerned the property committee has acted arbitrarily and aggressively.
"Who is going to want to work with the city if we do this kind of stuff?" asked Orlikow, a vocal critic of the land swap. "We have to work in an open and transparent manner, and bullying people is not the way to go about this."
Earlier in the same meeting, council's property committee also voted to strip Shindico of its contract to manage the 11-storey tower portion of the former Canada Post building on Graham Avenue, acquired by the city in 2009.
Earlier this fall, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation complained the contract was awarded under a search that did not explicitly identify property-management services. The contract was cancelled to allow other firms a chance to bid on the work, Browaty said.
Shindico will be given 90 days notice of the cancellation and a new request for proposals will be issued, Thorgrimson said. Council has also been asked to declare the tower surplus, as the city plans to sell it after the Winnipeg Police Service moves into new headquarters in the warehouse portion of the building in 2014.
A separate effort by Wyatt to strip Shindico of a contract to manage the Dominion Bridge site on Dublin Avenue failed in a hung vote. Instead, the committee voted to ask Thorgrimson's staff to prepare a report explaining why the land has not been sold since the city acquired it in a 2008 tax sale.