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Water tends to foster growth

Deal lets trade hub boost momentum

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Most greenfield developments that need multiple third-party participants start out life looking like a white elephant waiting to happen.

The larger the project, the bigger the potential disaster.

The promoter can say all sorts of reasonable things about how and why the project is fantastic, but doubters will continue to pile on. However, if the project is being properly managed, the momentum will flip around almost immediately when the first anchor tenant is confirmed.

A large Facebook server farm would have changed the tone of the chatter about CentrePort 180 degrees.

That shift in dynamic has been delayed, but it's coming.

Martin McGarry was the Winnipeg agent representing Facebook. He said, "Believe me, it was very, very real."

There may not be another Facebook-sized project waiting in the wings, but McGarry and others are convinced demand for CentrePort is real.

And now that a Plan B for sewer and water servicing for the site has been agreed on, things will start to happen.

Like any real estate play, values will increase as the location becomes more attractive. And for a greenfield project -- which starts out empty, by definition -- values will theoretically increase with every new addition.

"We are talking to some other big users who will now start to think of their own plans," McGarry said. "It's a hurdle we've gotten over (having a water and sewer plan in place). Now let's start planning who goes where."

Diane Gray will be ready. The CEO of CentrePort has been out there spreading the gospel and laying the groundwork even though there's not much to show for it. Yet.

CentrePort has operated with a staff of about three people until last month when three professionals were added including John Spacek, the longtime provincial assistant deputy minister of transportation policy with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.

The CentrePort management entity's mandate is to market the project and operate a single-window access for the inland port's Foreign Trade Zone benefits, not to be a developer.

But Gray and her team are working at planning a common-use rail facility as well as a rail-intensive industrial park that would be adjacent to it. The idea is to aggregate some kind of all-access rail component to the road and air cargo pieces at the site. Gray says it would become a differentiator for CentrePort. It's also of a type that requires leadership to pull together otherwise-competing stakeholders -- in particular the three class-one railways, CN, CP and BNSF.

"That project has been moving forward quite well," Gray said. "A service plan that allows us to be able to attract rail-intensive business into that industrial area will become an important catalyst for the future of CentrePort and really what it means to have a tri-modal solution for supply-chain management within the capital region."

But the point is, none of this is going to happen until investors are satisfied the appropriate infrastructure is in place.

McGarry has sold all 66 hectares of Brookside Industrial Park West south of Inkster Boulevard and is preparing another 40-hectare project for a subdivision within the CentrePort footprint.

The 60-hectare Brookside Business Park on the northwest side of Brookside and Inkster boulevards has sold most of its lots to smaller-scale trucking, distribution and servicing companies. Both those developments on the eastern edge of CentrePort were in place before the inland port idea was conceived.

All those new tenants have dug their own wells and retention ponds but it's impossible for large-scale operations to develop there without sewer and water services.

The province's engineers are now busy designing the new water-service plan for CentrePort. They are expected to have a schedule for construction of a treatment plant -- if that's necessary -- and water pipes ready in a matter of months.

It might not happen right away, but once the timing of construction is announced, many believe we'll see that greenfield start to fill up.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 6, 2013 A6

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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