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High-stakes game

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IT’S a great time to be a sports fan in Winnipeg, and not just because the Jets and Bombers are playing home games on the same day for the first time in decades.

If your spectator sport of choice is watching developers compete for land, grants, incentives, approvals and ultimately profits, then keep your eyes on the City of Winnipeg.

Over the next few months, a high-stakes development game will play out on real estate in downtown Winnipeg, the neighbourhoods northeast of the city’s core and the sprawling greenfields at both the edge of the city and just outside its boundaries.

Just as in the CFL and NHL, there will be winners and losers in this game. And just as in those leagues, the field of play may not be level and the officiating could be called into question.

Given the big-money game unfolding in this town, it’s time for a season preview of sorts outlining some of the battles in three prospective arenas:

1. DOWNTOWN WINNIPEG

THE PLAYING FIELD: Downtown’s fledgling SHED, or sports, hospitality and entertainment district.

THE GAME: For the past four decades, downtown Winnipeg has been a place where the public sector led development. But a combination of market forces and a battery of forthcoming government incentives and grants is creating a scramble for land and government cash in an 11-block section of downtown that runs from the Burton Cummings Theatre to the Winnipeg Convention Centre and also includes the MTS Centre, the Metropolitan Theatre, the Longboat Development Corp.’s hotel/commercial project north of Portage Avenue and the eastern third of Portage Place.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: New city/provincial tax incentives for new developments that range in potential size from two-storey nightclubs to 20-storey residential buildings. The right to purchase and/or build mixed-use residential/commercial buildings on government-owned surface parking lots on land around the MTS Centre. The potential for more interest-free loans for new parkades. New City of Winnipeg tax holidays for owners of surface parking lots who build up on their properties. Control of the profitable Portage Place parkade and the air rights that go with it.

PRIVATE-SECTOR PLAYERS: The Chipman family-owned Longboat Development Corp.; the Canad Corp., which owns the Met; Vancouver’s Peterson Group, which owns Portage Place; all existing and potential downtown hoteliers; anyone else who owns land in and around the SHED.

PUBLIC-SECTOR OFFICIALS: The city, province, CentreVenture Development Corp., The Forks North Portage Partnership, Manitoba Lotteries and Manitoba Public Insurance.

CHEERLEADERS: Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone director Stefano Grande and Winnipeg Convention Centre manager Klaus Lahr.

2. SOUTH POINT DOUGLAS AND THE EAST EXCHANGE

THE PLAYING FIELD: Downtown property on the east flank of the

Exchange District and the entire west bank of the Red River from Stephen Juba Park to the eastern tip of Point Douglas.

THE GAME: Over the past five years the city, province and private speculators have been jockeying for position in and around South Point Douglas, a mostly industrial neighbourhood with a small residential population and tremendous potential for redevelopment, given its riverside locale and proximity to downtown. As development in the nearby East Exchange continues, albeit slowly, public officials are under pressure to balance a desire for more green space and pedestrian corridors with higher-end residential development.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: Property values in what’s currently a depressed area, a $5-million interest-free loan to build a new parkade in the East Exchange, potential tax incentives for new developments, the right to redevelop the long-vacant James Avenue Pumping Station, the right to build housing and retail along a new pedestrian walkway and the future of the proposed Point Douglas Provincial Park.

PRIVATE-SECTOR PLAYERS: StreetSide Development Corp., which is building condos in the East Exchange; Gateway Industries, which recently suffered a serious fire on its Point Douglas Property; Sunstone Resort Communities, which owns Sky Waterfront Condominiums and is building a new hotel on Waterfront Drive; all other property owners, both commercial and residential, along the strip.

PUBLIC-SECTOR OFFICIALS: The city, province, CentreVenture Development Corp. and again, The Forks North Portage Partnership, the latter having a specific mandate to expand the city’s network of riverside paths.

CHEERLEADERS: Council riverbank chairman Justin Swandel (St. Norbert), who’s been arguing for more riverfront development.

3. THE ’BURBS AND WEST ST. PAUL

THE PLAYING FIELD: The last two dozen or so remaining greenfields — undeveloped, unpolluted land — within the city and vast swaths of farmland and other greenfields to the north of the city in West St. Paul.

THE GAME: While this has not received as much attention as the jockeying downtown, developers of single-family properties are making long-term plans to build new stand-alone homes on the last remaining patches of City of Winnipeg land that will be easy to service with water and sewer pipes. When those parcels are all gone, their attention will drift north to neighbouring West St. Paul, where the city is planning to extend water and sewer services.

WHAT’S AT STAKE: The right to develop suburban greenfields and the vast profits that go along with those rights. And depending on how far this ex-urban development goes, Winnipeg’s ability to continue to increase the density of its core. On a smaller scale, the future of North Perimeter Park presents a specific developmental bonanza.

PRIVATE-SECTOR PLAYERS: Potentially, every home-building company in Winnipeg.

PUBLIC-SECTOR OFFICIALS: The city, province and the regional development planners who look over West St. Paul and St. Andrews.

CHEERLEADERS: None. Given the potential profits, nobody wants to draw attention to this game.

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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 appears every second Wednesday on Citytv’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler.

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
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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