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Mayor Brian Bowman's office was made aware of key aspects of True North Sports & Entertainment's downtown-development plans a month before the mayor said he only heard rumours about it.

The company that owns the Winnipeg Jets has plans to build a hotel, office and retail space, housing and a public square on two plots of land south of Graham Avenue. The proposed development, purported to involve more than $100 million in investment, has become the flashpoint for a bitter dispute between Winnipeg's rookie mayor and downtown-development agency CentreVenture.

Ross McGowan

Ross McGowan

Over the past two weeks, Bowman has taken CentreVenture to task for signing an option with True North on one of those plots -- the former Carlton Inn site at 220 Carlton St. -- before city council released construction company Stuart Olson of an obligation to build a hotel on the site.

In January, Bowman characterized the option as a secret deal while questioning CentreVenture president and CEO Angela Mathieson and volunteer board members Curt Vossen and Richard Olfert at executive policy committee meetings. The mayor said he had only heard "rumours and rumblings" about the deal and wanted all the information out in the open.

Former CentreVenture president and CEO Ross McGowan, who retired in December, told the Free Press Monday he did in fact make the mayor's office aware of True North's plans.

Mayor Brian Bowman

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mayor Brian Bowman

McGowan said he sent an email on Nov. 20 to Bowman's chief of staff, Jason Fuith, "outlining the terms and conditions of the option with True North."

McGowan also said Fuith was present at a Dec. 12 meeting where the True North project was discussed.

"The project video was shown to him," McGowan said in a joint interview with Vossen, CentreVenture's board chairman. McGowan said True North president and CEO Jim Ludlow gave him permission to show the video to Fuith.

Vossen asserted Bowman was aware of the information provided to Fuith when the mayor questioned Vossen and Olfert at a special EPC meeting on Jan. 26. Vossen and McGowan also said CentreVenture gave a complete copy of the True North option to acting city solicitor Krista Boryskavich on Dec. 1.

"The mayor was telling us he's never seen, or known anything about the option," Vossen said. "Everybody's playing half again too cute."

Vossen and Olfert said Bowman knew more at the Jan. 26 meeting, but the mayor rejected the assertion.

In an interview on Monday, Bowman acknowledged Fuith met with McGowan, but said the former CentreVenture president did not provide his chief of staff with all the aspects of True North's plans. They involve both the former Carlton Inn site and a surface-parking lot at 225 Carlton St., owned by Manitoba Public Insurance and optioned to a partnership involving True North in 2012.

"We've been trying to get those details for some time," Bowman said. "If Ross has more information he can provide, I'd invite him to appear at the next EPC meeting."

The mayor said he still wants to know why the option signed with True North was dated Sept. 24, but made effective on June 12 -- the day the proposal was first discussed by CentreVenture's board. Bowman also said he still has not seen the option sent to Boryskavich and noted CentreVenture lawyer Phil Sheps -- Bowman's former partner at Pitblado Law -- made it clear he may or may not see the option.

"Their representatives yelling from the gallery and on the floor were pretty clear I was not going not to get a copy of the option agreement," Bowman said of CentreVenture's staff and board members. "We asked in that meeting, give me the facts, and all we heard was 'just trust me.' "

That meeting saw EPC vote in favour of a plan to release Stuart Olson from its obligation to build a hotel to serve the convention centre -- and a holdback of up to $16 million -- in exchange for paying a $3.75-million settlement. The plan, approved by council two days later, also called for CentreVenture to issue a public search for anyone interested in developing the Carlton Inn site, despite the option signed with True North on Sept. 24.

McGowan and Vossen said senior city officials were aware of the plans for more than six months. Four senior city managers -- Boryskavich, then-acting chief administrative officer Deepak Joshi, current acting CAO Michael Jack and chief financial officer Mike Ruta -- took part in a June 19 meeting with Ludlow and convention-centre board members and staff about True North's plans, McGowan and Vossen said.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca