Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Katz gives water-park scheme a deadline

City's $7-M offer off table by end of March, he says

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Mayor Sam Katz says he's almost ready to pull the plug on his four-year-old dream of using public funds to help build a private water park.

Since January 2008, the City of Winnipeg has been trying to offer a private developer $7 million to build an indoor water park. The grant was initially awarded to the Canad Inns hotel chain but then withdrawn when a project planned for Polo Park failed to proceed.

The city issued a new expression of interest, but has yet to choose a proposal that meets the city's specifications, which include a provision the private water park will allow access to people with limited incomes.

If the city doesn't dole out the grant before the end of March, the money will be spent elsewhere, Katz said during question period at Wednesday's city council meeting.

The mayor said he considered cancelling the water-park plan last November, but held off while officials continued to speak to a prospective developer.

"This has been going on for a little longer than I had hoped, because the department has been having what they believe is some positive dialogue," Katz told reporters.

"It's a term you hear quite often at city hall: Either feed or shoot it. If we're not going to move forward on it, let's end this misery. There's lots of other projects we can do."

The money for the water park was originally set aside for rapid transit under the Glen Murray administration. It was then redirected into a $43-million recreation program when a newly elected Katz persuaded the federal and provincial governments to let Winnipeg redirect the bus-corridor funds.

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, whose question-period query prompted Katz to make the water-park announcement, mused the mayor could come full circle by devoting the unused $7-million grant for the completion of the Southwest Rapid Transit Corridor.

"The money originally came from transit. Maybe it should go back there," she said. But Gerbasi said Winnipeg has many other infrastructure needs, including recreation and community centres.

Katz committed to keeping the cash within the recreation realm if no water-park deal emerges by the end of March.

The mayor said he does not believe the city's demand for public access to a private water park scared away prospective developers. Instead, he suggested entrepreneurs are wary of working with the public sector, even to the point of spurning a $7-million grant.

"There's a lot of people in the private sector who don't want to get involved with government in any way, shape or form," Katz said.

The mayor said he would build a water park himself if he were not a public official. Before taking office, the Winnipeg Goldeyes owner helped build Shaw Park with the help of public funds.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

The twists, turns of a $43-M recreation fund for Winnipeg

THE story of Winnipeg's abortive efforts to use the same wad of cash to build a bus corridor, fix a Kildonan Park pool and subsidize a private water park:

2004: Newly elected mayor Sam Katz leads a council effort to cancel former mayor Glen Murray's plan to build a bus corridor alongside Pembina Highway. Katz begins lobbying the federal Liberals and Manitoba's NDP 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: Council cancels the Kildonan Park plan due to cost overruns and decides to spend $2.8 million on Kildonan Park pool and spray-pad improvements instead. Council also launches a 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 grant to the Canad Inns hotel chain, which wants to build a $43.6-million water park at Polo Park along with a $12-million expansion of an existing hotel.

2009: The city pulls the plug on the Canad Inns water-park plan and issues a new call for private companies to build a water park.

2012: Katz considers cancelling the water-park plan if no proponent is chosen by the end of March and redirecting the $7-million grant back to recreation projects.

- Kives

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2012 A5

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