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City's real estate division trying to rush new land sale: Havixbeck

Councillor asked for approval, but refuses to grant it, citing lack of information

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Mayoral candidate Paula Havixbeck at a press conference Tuesday at City Hall.

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Mayoral candidate Paula Havixbeck at a press conference Tuesday at City Hall. Photo Store

Mayoral candidate Paula Havixbeck is calling for a moratorium of all city real estate deals until the completion of an RCMP review.

Havixbeck said today that all land deals should be put on hold pending the outcome of the review, singling out the proposed sale of the former Kenaston snow dump to the firm that is converting the Canada Post warehouse into the new police headquarters building.

Havixbeck said questions surround Caspian Construction and its involvement in the Smith Street police headquarters project, adding it’s improper for Caspian’s offer for the Kenaston property to be considered until the firm’s involvement has been cleared by an RCMP investigation into the city’s real estate deals.

"Winnipeggers expect us to get these decisions right, and we must act when all the information is available to us, rather than blindly signing off on mega-projects while police reviews are ongoing," Havixbeck said.

Caspian president Armik Babakhanians did not respond to an interview request.

The provincial government announced last week that the RCMP will review the findings of the three independent audits – the fire hall replacement program, the police headquarters project, and a third reviewing examining 33 real estate transactions over a five-year period – and other related material.

Questions had been raised over how Caspian, a small local construction firm, had been awarded the contract for the police headquarters project ahead of several national firms.

The Kenaston snow dump has been on the market since April. The offer period closed August 8. According to the email sent to Havixbeck, which she distributed to media, the bidders are eager to know which offer is being recommended. Havixbeck’s endorsement was being sought as the property is in her ward.

The real estate division said it had received seven offers for the Kenaston property, with Caspian’s bid of $5.2 million being the highest.

The email states Caspian is proposing a mixed development for the site but contained no information about what the other bidders had offered or their proposed development plans.

Havixbeck said she was presented with only limited information on Caspian’s offer and no information about the other six bidders.

The email from the real estate division said there was an urgency to its request, as the department wanted her endorsement for inclusion in a report that has to be prepared by the end of the week.

"What this says to me is again, as a councillor, our council is held hostage – we have a gun to our heads in terms of coming up with approval when we have parts of information and other processes (the RCMP investigation) underway," Havixbeck said.

Havixbeck had originally called a noon hour news conference to talk about her proposals to improve the 311 system but she said she opted to put that issue to another day so she could expose the continuing questionable activities of the city’s real estate staff.

Havixbeck said the real estate division was repeatedly identified in three independent audits as acting improperly.

"This department was named repeatedly for mismanagement," Havixbeck said, adding it appears that department officials have learned nothing from the findings and recommendations of the three audits.

Havixbeck said she would not disclose if she had any specific concerns with Caspian Construction, adding she remains concerned about the actions of the real estate division.

"There is nothing saying we need to rush a process and rush a deal," Havixbeck said.

In her email response to the real estate division, Havixbeck states she wants the sale put on hold.

"I recommend you put this process on hold until we know the findings (of the RCMP investigation) and whether the City has appropriately implemented the recommendations of the three audits insofar as land transactions are concerned," Havixbeck states in her email to the real estate division.

Havixbeck wrote to the division that she couldn’t endorse the sale as the division had not presented her with all relevant information.

"I have not reviewed all of the other proposals or your process to know whether I agree with the recommendations (to accept Caspian’s offer)," Havixbeck said. "Your timelines are not realistic to allow me the opportunity to review both processes and bidders."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 4:38 PM CDT: Writethru.

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