Gord Steeves has shaken up the moribund mayoral race with a promise to sell city-owned golf courses to raise more than $100 million for road renewal.
On Friday, the lawyer and former St. Vital councillor pledged to liquidate the Kildonan Park, Crescent Drive, Windsor Park and John Blumberg golf courses and use the proceeds to fix roads.
City council has already declared John Blumberg, located in the RM of Headingley, surplus land. Selling the other three would require the approval of two-thirds of councillors. The idea was rejected two years ago after an acrimonious debate.
Steeves said he believes councillors could be convinced to revisit the idea if they were presented with what he described as a "stark choice" between maintaining golf as a city service and respecting Winnipeggers' desire for better roads.
Skeptics on council could be convinced of the benefits of creating more housing and developing infill instead of suburbs, he said.
"If we can get the land declared surplus, I think all of us know by virtue of the demand in this city and the properties that we are talking about, this land would sell virtually immediately. I have every confidence," Steeves said on Ellice Avenue, which is under repair.
Proceeds from the sale of the four properties would be funnelled into road repairs as long as the construction industry has the capacity to do the work, he added.
New property-tax revenue from developments on the three golf courses located inside the city would also be devoted to road repairs, he added.
He said he based his $100-million valuation on the notion 60 per cent of the land would be used for single-family housing, 30 per cent would support multi-family housing and 10 per cent would be reserved for commercial development.
Steeves also took a shot at candidate Brian Bowman -- who mused about toll roads in response to a Free Press editorial -- by claiming his rival wants to boost the financial burden on Winnipeggers.
In response, Bowman said: "This is politics as usual. Let's be frank: Gord was on council for a decade. If there was long-term planning at that point to deal with infrastructure, we certainly wouldn't have the roads we have today."
Bowman said selling golf courses to generate revenue for roads "reeks of short-sightedness." He mused whether parks would be liquidated next.
It would be wrong to sell city assets "because of the previous incompetence" of city council, added Judy Wasylycia-Leis, another front-runner.
She said middle-income Winnipeggers who like to golf can't afford private country clubs and it's offensive to consider closing the Kildonan Park golf course, one of the city's oldest and a money-maker.
Shuttering the Windsor Park golf course would also close the cross-country ski trails that make that course the only one in Winnipeg used 12 months a year, Wasylycia-Leis added.
"It's an idiotic move. Somebody has not thought through his policy announcements," said Brent Bottomley of the Windsor Park Nordic Ski Association. "This is a winter city. We've created a facility that makes this a more livable city. And he wants to close it?"
Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck, also running for mayor, said she doesn't know why Steeves supports selling golf courses now when he was unconvinced before he left council in 2011. "We've heard loud and clear the public does not want us to develop golf courses," she said.
In 2012, council voted 9-6 to declare John Blumberg surplus, but rejected a lease deal for the other three golf courses 8-7.