Delay sought on Portage Place redevelopment plan
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/07/2021 (400 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A key deadline for the proposed $400-million redevelopment of Portage Place mall could be postponed as developers continue to seek federal funding for the project.
On Wednesday, council’s executive policy committee voted 5-2 to let Toronto-based developer Starlight Investments get its construction financing in place by Oct. 31, instead of July 23, the original deadline tied to a $20-million city incentive package for the project.
Mayor Brian Bowman joined Couns. Scott Gillingham, Jeff Browaty, Cindy Gilroy and Sherri Rollins to support the extension, while Couns. Matt Allard and Brian Mayes opposed it.
“We want to support continued investments in our downtown and a better use of that space then we currently have,” Bowman told media.
The extension issue next moves to a full council vote.
The proposed project aims to include two 20-storey residential towers with 550 to 600 housing units, nearly 500,000 square feet of office and retail space, a grocery store, and a 10,000-sq.-ft. community space with public washrooms.
A Starlight representative told EPC the company needs more time to secure federal funding. Its request to the senior government grew substantially this year, after the project was revised to ensure 30 per cent of the housing units have affordable rents.
“Really, all we did… was ask for an additional amount of very standard construction financing, fully repayable loans,” said Howie Paskowitz, Starlight executive director of development.
The developer originally asked for $20 million from each of the city, province and feds. In March, the federal government said Starlight asked for $50 million in cash and to provide a $243-million Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. loan.
In a June 30 letter to the City of Winnipeg, Starlight states talks remain underway over an “approximately” $250-million CMHC loan.
Paskowitz said Starlight has “absolutely no intention” of asking the city for additional financial support.
Starlight has previously said the project won’t be completed without financial support from all three governments.
If council rejects the extension, that decision would cancel Winnipeg’s contribution.
The incentive package was narrowly approved 9-7 in July 2020, when several councillors expressed concerns they lacked the time and information to cast an informed vote.
On Wednesday, Mayes said he remains opposed to the extension because he’s still concerned about a lack of transparency.
“You’re looking at a $20-million (incentive) package and we’re more than a year in and we’re being told (by Starlight) ‘Just vote for it but there are many remaining moving parts that must remain confidential’… It would be nice to get more affordable housing, but at what cost and at what level of transparency?” he said.
Coun. Ross Eadie, who doesn’t sit on EPC, told the committee he’ll vote against the extension at the council level, due to its reliance on tax dollars.
“It’s really public dollars that are doing this, so why not have the federal government (lend money) to a (non-government organization)… to build?” asked Eadie.
Gilroy, the property and development committee chairwoman, said the project should help downtown recover from the severe economic blows of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In order for us to make sure we have a strong, healthy downtown, we need more people to live (there) — and this project could potentially do that. It also means we wouldn’t have another boarded-up building downtown right across from the Bay… if Portage Place isn’t sold and the owner decides to close up shop,” Gilroy told the Free Press.
Federal cabinet minister and Winnipeg MP Dan Vandal was not available for an interview about the funding request.
In an email, a CMHC spokesperson said the Crown corporation “remains open to considering and discussing” Starlight’s proposal.
The Manitoba government has promised to provide up to $28.7 million in education tax rebates to support the Portage Place redevelopment.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.