Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The plots thicken: A peek into the world of wheeling and dealing, Winnipeg style

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IF you’re a well-heeled Winnipeg developer or you own a major construction company, then you probably don’t need to read the rest of today’s column.

As a wealthy, powerful and connected individual, you're already well aware which plots of publicly owned land are ready to be sold or made available for development. Your financial well-being depends on possessing such information.

But since the vast majority of us aren't privy to the information bandied about on the golf course or at the lake or somewhere warm over the winter holidays, we're a little behind the curve.

So you'll have to bear with us as we play catch-up with a list of government-owned properties that will soon be converted into new developments -- and potential profits for you or one of your peers.

Here's what's coming down the pipe over the next few months:


Canad Inns Stadium site

Owner: City of Winnipeg

Location: Polo Park

Market value: Estimated at anywhere from $25 million to $35 million.

What's happening: After the Selinger government agreed to front the bulk of the $190-million tab for the Winnipeg Football Club's new stadium at the University of Manitoba, the city started looking at redeveloping the existing stadium site at Polo Park.

In 2011, the city issued an expression-of-interest document -- basically, a search for prospective developers -- with a stated preference for a mixed-use development with residential and commercial components.

Earlier this year, the city was in talks with at least one proponent. The delay in the completion of Investors Group Field at the U of M has complicated those negotiations to some extent, as the city was hoping the Blue Bombers would vacate the premises in June as planned.

Regardless, the city's preferred proponent is expected to be selected -- which is to say, made public -- in July, when council's property committee meets for the final time before the summer prorogation.

The Bombers, of course, don't have to leave until Investors Group Field is ready, hopefully in 2013.

Public golf courses

Owner: City of Winnipeg

Locations: Canoe Club, Crescent Drive, Windsor Park, Harbour View, John Blumberg, Kildonan Park and Tuxedo golf courses

Market value: That would depend on the zoning. Right now, all seven properties are green space.

What's happening: Late last year, the city issued another expression-of-interest document for seven golf courses deemed to be responsible for continuing losses at the city's Golf Services Special Operating Agency, a city entity that's supposed to be run like a business.

The city is supposed to be open to private and public-sector groups taking over the courses, but leases and sales for other uses are also on the table. The process has enraged some Winnipeggers who believe all green space is sacrosanct, but certainly not all -- golf courses have enemies among environmentalists and their conversion into residential infill would please housing advocates, who've been lobbying for more apartment units in Winnipeg.

At any rate, the sale of any piece of green space requires 11 votes on city council and the November election of St. Vital Coun. Brian Mayes made that magic number slightly harder to reach.

By February, St. James Coun. Scott Fielding, who chairs the committee responsible for golf courses, was hinting only two or three of the courses would be sold. And in the face of continuing public scrutiny, Mayor Sam Katz committed to holding public consultations about any developments involving the golf courses.

After repeated delays, the final proposals are expected before council in July. The only thing that appears certain is the Canoe Club course will be among the recommendations for sale.


225 Carlton St.

Owner: Manitoba Public Insurance

Location: Downtown

Assessed value: $3.4 million

What's happening: During the 2011 provincial election, the Selinger government promised to redevelop some surface parking lots it owns in downtown Winnipeg, which is bur-dened by too much empty concrete.

One of the first lots up for grabs is an extremely desirable chunk of MPI-owned land south of Graham Avenue, southwest of the MTS Centre and due west of cityplace mall. MPI issued an expression-of-interest document in 2011 and has been swamped by the responses for mixed-use developments that may include condos, apartments, a hotel, commercial space and a parkade.

MPI has not placed a time limit on making a decision, mainly because it's not making a choice in a vacuum. The expansion of the Winnipeg Convention Centre (see right), the potential sale and redevelopment of the lower-end Carlton Hotel (right across the street) and the extension of the tax-increment financing zone around the MTS Centre will all be affected by what happens at this parking lot. What some Winnipeggers don't realize is the downtown SHED -- sports, hospitality and entertainment district -- is less an entertainment district than it is a funding mechanism for sprucing up an area that already exists.

Whatever happens, the scrutiny of this lot is intense, as the right development may prove to be a gold mine in the long run.


370 York Avenue

Owner: Province of Manitoba

Location: Downtown

Assessed value: $4.3 million

What's happening: Unlike the previous three plots of land, the fate of this massive lot is all but certain. The Winnipeg Convention Centre is planning a $200-million expansion across York Avenue, in conjunction with a private-sector partner that will build a hotel.

The speculation on this deal involves the identity of that partner as well as how much money it will be expected to contribute to the deal. Even more lucrative, in the short term, will be the construction contract for the expansion, which will be partly underwritten by the province.

Given the complaints about the construction of Investors Group Field -- another public amenity financed by the province -- the public interest in the normally mundane world of construction will be considerable.

And if it isn't? Oh, well. They'll certainly be talking about it on the golf course, or at the lake, or way down south over the winter holidays.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2012 ??65528

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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