Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Condo redux

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Several city councillors who voted to give buyers of new condos in the Exchange District $10,000 as a purchase incentive now claim they weren't clear what they were supporting and they want to reconsider the matter.

In fact, the question before them was crystal clear, but what they did not anticipate was the public backlash against the idea of handing out cash to people for purchasing condominiums with a value of less than $400,000.

Actually, that figure wasn't even in the report they approved. Nor was other critical information on the number of condo units that are awaiting sale. The goal of the program, for example, was to sell half of 460 units, even though only 166 are actually built.

The rest are in the process of being built, or still in the planning stages, awaiting enough sales before developers begin construction.

Coun. Scott Fielding said he changed his mind after constituents asked him why someone should get a $10,000 subsidy "if they don't." Mr. Fielding should have figured out an answer to that question long before he endorsed the plan.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said she didn't know funding for the program would come from new taxes generated by downtown development, rather than new taxes generated by growth in the Exchange District. The report she approved, however, clearly states the money would come from tax revenue raised across the downtown.

Councillors didn't need a seminar to figure this out, but they needed to ask questions before the motion arrived at council last week.

Maybe it was the heat wave that caused their disinterest and lackadaisical approach, but whatever it was, it's hardly an endorsement of the idea that well-paid, full-time councillors are better equipped to focus on civic problems than the part-time representatives they replaced in 1992.

The program would not have become law until council's next meeting in September, but the current uncertainty means no one is likely to make a purchase or begin new construction until councillors figure out which way the parade is marching so they can get out and appear to lead it. What started out as a plan to stimulate downtown revitalization, in other words, has merely slowed it down because some councillors were asleep at the wheel on a controversial initiative.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 24, 2013 A8

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