Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Land at Forks incites squabble

-- Coun. Swandel seeks sale of prime site -- Idea called 'downright dangerous'

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Winnipeg city council has shot down what one councillor calls a "downright dangerous" proposal to sell a prime chunk of downtown land once touted for a water park.

On Wednesday, Couns. Justin Swandel (St. Norbert) and John Orlikow (River Heights) introduced a motion calling on the city to sell Parcel Four to The Forks North Portage Partnership for $6 million. The land is next to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights at The Forks and was previously slated to be developed as a 50,000-square-foot water park, hotel and parkade by an Alberta hotel chain.

The water-park deal fell through in May after councillors were bombarded with negative feedback from constituents who worried The Forks wasn't the place for a water park and the design was not a good fit for the area.

Council asked the company for detailed site plans, prompting hotelier Canalta to walk away from the proposal.

Swandel, one of council's biggest supporters of the water park, said The Forks North Portage did not approach him about any specific proposal for the land.

He said The Forks should be given an opportunity to buy the land and develop it, rather than having it sit as an "ugly" gravel surface parking lot.

"All we're doing is asking the administration to see if they can go out and negotiate it," Swandel said. "It will still have to come back and be declared surplus and the transaction would have to be approved by council."

Council opted to debate the idea immediately, prompting backlash from councillors who questioned whether the city learned anything from the public outcry about how it handled the water-park proposal.

Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) called Swandel's idea "downright dangerous" and suggested The Forks could sell the property to another motel-style company.

Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said Swandel was attempting to sole-source the sale, and pointed out he reduced the sale price from $6.5 million to $6 million in an amended version of the original motion.

Orlikow, who initially seconded the motion, said he would vote against it.

Swandel accused fellow councillors of lacking "political courage" to develop the significant piece of land, noting it would likely return to a "black hole of no decision."

In a last-ditch attempt, he introduced an amendment to not limit the sale of the land to The Forks. Council rejected the suggestion and shot down the proposal by a vote of 13-1.

"It was just a really poorly thought out motion," Browaty said, noting Swandel took it personally when councillors rejected the idea.

The Forks North Portage chief executive officer Jim August could not be reached for comment.

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said it may be a good idea to work with The Forks to develop the land, but the city has got to start following its own procedures.

She said the land, which is located in her ward, has not been declared surplus.

"It might be the right thing to do in the end, but we need to start following process around here," Gerbasi said.

"That's the root of our problems and we just keep continuing to try and fix bad process with more bad process."

Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said the city has the opportunity to do something more with the land -- such as turning it into a contemplative garden -- and engage the public in the decision-making process.

"It could be much more spectacular than just trying to sell it," she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2012 B1

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