Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flap sparks call for land-sales audit

Gerbasi seeks review after vote, cites lack of transparency in deal

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Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi has called for an audit into city land sales after the water-park proposal caused what she described as a public relations and policy disaster.

City council decided on Wednesday to wait to obtain more information before it votes on whether to spend $7 million to subsidize a hotel and water-park complex proposed for The Forks. Alberta-based hotel chain Canalta wants to build a 50,000-square-foot water park, hotel and parkade on a city-owned gravel parking lot known as Parcel Four. The plan calls for Canalta to purchase the land from the city for $6 million and receive a $7-million grant in exchange for $700,000 worth of admission credits every year for the next 25 years.

Council voted in favour of delaying the plan to get more specifics on Canalta's site and design plans and the public-access agreement. The move came after city councillors were bombarded with negative feedback from constituents who were concerned The Forks isn't the right place for a water park.

Gerbasi said she thinks the water-park file has been "seriously mishandled" and the city administration needs to be held accountable. She called for an audit of the Parcel Four transaction -- and other city land sales -- to ensure Winnipeg's processes are fair and transparent.

Gerbasi said the proposal was rushed through with scant details and Winnipeg should look at its land sales to eliminate "these sorts of situations that end up in a significant shmozzle."

Parcel Four was never tendered on the open market and became available to developers in 2009 as part of the city's search for a private water-park partner.

"There are times when you look at an unsolicited offer, but this (land) is so significant with its location that I think we have to do property transactions with a sense of fairness," Gerbasi said. "There really wasn't an opportunity for local business."

Winnipeg's chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl declined to speak with the Free Press. City spokesman Steve West sent an email statement on Sheegl's behalf that said he is confident administration did "all the due diligence necessary."

The statement said the public service will continue to give its best professional advice and work to obtain the details council requested.

On the council floor, Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights) said the city disrespected local developers by not giving them a chance to weigh in on what the best use of Parcel Four could be. The land was never put to tender, Orlikow said, and the city did not engage stakeholders or other developers to discuss other possibilities.

"I have talked to many local developers who are miffed that they never even got the chance to come up with a really great idea," he said.

Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said he agrees the city hasn't looked at opening up Parcel Four to other options.

"I agree it's an important site. It's undoubtedly why we received so many calls and Twitters from everybody," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2012 A5


Updated on Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 10:32 AM CDT: Removed reference to 60-day delay; council did not specify the length of the delay.

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