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This article was published 12/1/2016 (1780 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It took less than 20 minutes Tuesday evening for Peguis First Nation and the Manitoba Jockey Club to make their first public pitch to turn Assiniboia Downs into the city’s largest urban reserve.
And about two minutes for the city’s Assiniboia community committee to give it an initial green light.
The approval was a critical first step for a multimillion-dollar expansion of the racetrack.
The plan can now be registered with the city’s land titles office.
"Now it will be over to land titles. We were successful in the first step of many. Our master plan was reviewed and very positively received," said Darren Dunn, CEO of the Downs.
"We are looking forward to re-establishing our presence in and around Winnipeg," Peguis Chief Cindy Spence, as the pair paused for questions outside the committee room.
The Assiniboia community committee meeting Tuesday represented a small but influential step to launch a lengthy process.
The end result is to turn 36 acres of the Downs over for development to Peguis with the jockey club as a partner.
The First Nation and the jockey club intend to expand the racetrack into a regional racing and entertainment hub complete with one or more hotels and, down the road, a casino.
What they received Tuesday night was the committee’s go ahead to subdivide the 36-acre lot into three separate lots.
"It’s a critical first step," Spence said.
"The intention is to have an economic development zone, an urban reserve on this site," Dunn told the committee.
However, it will likely take years for shovels to turn over any ground.
"There is so much more to come after this," noted Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands-Weston), who chairs the committee.
The Assiniboia Downs area master plan covers the lands just west of the Perimeter Highway, nestled between the Pointe West Auto Mall, the MTS IcePlex and the Red River exhibition grounds. The plan calls for a large parking lot to be turned into an entertainment centre with at least one hotel and conference centre, more gaming facilities and eventually shops and restaurants, in addition to the racetrack and barn area.
Among the original ideas was to relocate the Aseneskak Casino on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas to Assiniboia Downs. But the Selinger government has traditionally been unwilling to open a third casino in Winnipeg.
It’s not yet clear whether a casino will be part of the Downs project, or when work on the hotel and conference centre will begin.
There was no mention of those details at city hall Tuesday evening.
The Peguis chief said there is also a lengthy process ahead to convert the land to reserve status, part of a move to make good on promises Canada made to the First Nation in Treaty 1 but never fulfilled.
"Peguis has long and historical roots here in this city and down the Selkirk area. Now that the land claim was settled in 2008, it had given us the dollars to invest. The first step is to get land title and once that is in place we can start the process of converting the land into reserve," Spence said.
In the meantime, the First Nation used Tuesday’s meeting to express its willingness to negotiate a service agreement with the city and a payment in lieu of taxes for all municipal services.
A similar agreement was made with Long Plain First Nation for the city’s first urban reserve near Polo Park.
In 2013, Peguis First Nation and the Manitoba Jockey Club, the non-profit group that owns the track, partnered on a proposal to build a new hotel and convention centre, a move that was tangled in a nasty dispute between the jockey club and the province over VLT revenue.
The next step will be a series of studies looking at land drainage, traffic impacts, parking and municipal services, said Dunn.
— with files from Mary Agnes Welch