CentrePort’s integrated inland port moves closer to reality Multi-billion dollar rail park to link truck and air transport hubs, create 5,000 jobs

CentrePort Canada’s long-sought goal of creating an inland port with an integrated truck, air and rail transport system is about to become a reality.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/03/2022 (435 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

CentrePort Canada’s long-sought goal of creating an inland port with an integrated truck, air and rail transport system is about to become a reality.

Focus Equities, a Victoria developer experienced in complex industrial developments, has been named the developer of the CentrePort Rail Park, a unique 665 acre development that will link rail-dependent heavy-industries with CP’s main line in the northwest part of the city.

Industries needing 50-to-100 acres are already lined up to be part of the project that is expected to generate $2 billion-to-$3 billion in development dollars alone and close to 5,000 new jobs for the province when the complex is built out over the next 10-to-20 years.

Site of the proposed rail park. (Supplied)

The site is located on the south side of the CP Carberry Subdivision with CentrePort Canada Way to the east and Four Mile Road/ Selkirk Avenue to the south.

It is the realization of CentrePort’s mandate of attracting industries requiring access to multi-modal transportation services.

The launch of the rail park comes at a time when the North American distribution and logistics industries are becoming de-centralized and industries are looking for shovel-ready sites to develop, something that there has been a scarcity of in Winnipeg.

Ken Mariash, the owner and CEO of Focus, said the province has expedited the sale of the first 200 acres so that construction of waste water servicing to the site can begin this summer.

The province is selling the land to Focus that it has held in trust for this project since acquiring it from CP during construction of CentrePort Canada Way back in 2009-2010. Sources have indicated that the sale price of the land was more than what the province originally paid for it.

“This development — in the heart of the country — will support our vision to make Manitoba a true trade gateway nationally and internationally,” said Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson. “The rail park project will help us bolster our economy and attract new businesses, now and well into the future.”

While it’s is on undeveloped land, Mariash said there is less infrastructure work required compared to other large projects he has been involved in.

“I call this a gift-wrapped project,” Mariash said in an interview with the Free Press. “This one already has infrastructure we would normally have to build ourselves like highway interchanges. This is like we’ve died and gone to heaven. I congratulate the province for investing in the infrastructure that is already there.”

CentrePort (Supplied)

He also praised the work that CentrePort has done in marketing and promoting development in the region.

Mariash is a big proponent of intensive multi-media marketing and branding of his projects. His 50 year-old company has been involved with the development, purchase or sale of millions of square feet of commercial industrial land and thousands of apartment and condominium units, including projects on a similar scale to the CentrePort Rail Park in Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria. It is currently engaged in developing over US$5 billion of projects in North America.

Since 2016 much of the 20,000 acre inland port’s land that is located in the Rural Municipality of Rosser— where the rail park will also be — now has water and wastewater services and industrial development in the area has grown dramatically since then. (The City of Winnipeg committed $20 million for servicing the south part of CentrePort in this year’s budget and many expect federal and provincial funding support to be forthcoming.)

Focus responded to a request for proposals that was put out in 2018, so has been actively working on design and pre-sale on the site for a couple of years already. The industrial park will be subdivided for industries that require large pieces of land.

Martin McGarry of Cushman & Wakefield Stevenson, the listing agent for the rail park, said there are interested parties lined up ready to acquire land in the development.

“It’s very, very difficult to line up interest when you are trying to put in infrastructure,” he said. “The fact that we have pre-sales already further reinforces the success to come with this park.”

Diane Gray, the CEO of Centreport has worked for several years marshalling the project to this stage.

'Gift-wrapped project': Ken Mariash, owner and CEO of Focus. (Supplied)

“It is a complicated opportunity,” she said. “It’s not a straight 80-acre industrial park. This is a significant amount of land and we needed a developer to see that bigger picture vision and who has some patience and the financial backing to be able to carry a project that could build out over the next 10 to 20 years.”

It could fill up much quicker, but industry officials say economic dynamics will be a factor in the speed in which it gets developed.

Mariash said the kind of “tenants” who would buy land in the project might include internationally known distribution operations, chemical and fertilizer companies and value-added manufacturing companies. He said he has spoken to lithium processors and players in the electric battery supply chain.

“Users like that have quite a demand for rail because it is heavy stuff,” he said.

The location of the site, along close to three kilometres of CP Rail line, might be unique in Canada and maybe even North America.

“This does not exist anywhere else. If you wanted to build a 100,000 square foot facility with rail access, well good luck,” said McGarry who has also been active as a developer and broker in Centreport for several years. “Shovel-ready rail serviced land is almost impossible to find. This is a dedicated park with its own internal rail operator with access to the three class one rail carriers.”

While it is connected to CP’s line, there are interchange opportunities to link up to the CN and BNSF lines as well.

While the general thesis for the attraction of companies to the rail park is not any different than what economic development promoters have been talking about for years – a central location in North America, a stable and well-educated workforce, cheap hydroelectricity – Mariash and others say early interest being shown by would-be tenants is an indication that those benefits are now finally being acknowledged.

The location of the site is close to three kilometres of CP Rail line. (Supplied)

Focus has released a video of Mariash talking about Winnipeg and referencing, among other things, the 1919 general strike as something that has had a lasting negative impact on economic development in the city.

“In spite of Winnipeg being a great place, it is not well known,” he said. “That is a big problem in industry. It will just take some promoting.”

After finishing a massive industrial development in a similarly located area of Edmonton, Mariash said Winnipeg becomes more attractive now that Alberta has become a more mature development market “without that gold rush activity chasing oil in Alberta”.

“I think all the merits of Winnipeg, manufacturing, shipping and receiving… all those things will become much more of a factor in this new logistics environment,” he said.

Dayna Spiring, the CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg said that initiating the rail park development is a signal of more things to come in the city.

“This will be a really strong tool in our economic development tool kit,” she said. “People are talking about wanting to re-shore the supply chain because we’re all realizing that relying on Asia and other places doesn’t always work out.”

Large scale industries need very specific land to develop and Winnipeg has just not had the type of serviced lands many of them needed. Spiring said that her sales team has been successful in attracting businesses to Winnipeg but there is no land to accommodate them.

Winnipeg hopes to use its central advantage to be a distribution hub. (Supplied)

“Success begets success in development,” said McGarry. “It takes a long, long time to build momentum. I’ve been talking about the advantages of Winnipeg for most of my career but it has only been resonating the last few years.”

Spiring said she feels very good about the city being ready for growth coming out the pandemic.

“Sometimes it takes an investment or nudge or something material to happen for of us to take step back,” she said. “Winnipeg is in a good place to come out of the pandemic strong.”

Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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