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This article was published 31/5/2019 (437 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Could SkipTheDishes make its next major delivery at The Forks?
There's a sense of momentum building in both the public and private sectors about the wildly popular Winnipeg born-and-bred food-courier service delivering itself to the much-anticipated Railside mixed-use development now being devised for 14 acres of undeveloped land on the west side of The Forks site.
Multiple sources confirmed that the company — which now boasts more than 2,300 employees in four different buildings in the East Exchange District — is interested in a new headquarters on Parcel 4, a city-owned property at the northwest edge of The Forks directly across from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, that is expected to serve as a significant component of Railside.
The sources confirmed a prominent Winnipeg developer, aided by Economic Development Winnipeg and its executive director Dayna Spiring, have been aggressively promoting the idea to the Forks Renewal Corp., and to the three levels of government that are serving as partners in a grander vision to establish a smart park for tech companies on the land.
City and provincial sources said EDW has been particularly bullish on the idea, arguing that failure to meet some of Skip's expectations around a showcase headquarters could cause the company to look elsewhere to set up its base of operations.
EDW refused to comment, but Paul Jordan, the chief executive officer of the Forks Renewal Corp., said in an interview the possibility of a SkipTheDishes headquarters at The Forks is very real.
Jordan said the company is working with one of eight developers that have been pre-approved to pitch projects for Railside. Although he could not name the company, he said it is a well-established player in the local development community.
"In conversation with EDW and the developer, we've said that we're OK with this kind of project as long as it fits into our overall vision," Jordan said.
Founded in 2012, Skip was sold for C$110 million three years ago to Just Eat PLC, a U.K.-based company that operates food-delivery services in 13 countries. Just Eat is currently rolling out Skip's distinctive app — which allows users to order a meal and then watch the progress of the delivery vehicle — and its delivery model (which relies on independent contractors, as opposed to employees) to its operations in Australia and the U.K.
SkipTheDishes declined to discuss any particular location, but in a statement provided to the Free Press confirmed it's in the process of looking for a permanent headquarters in Winnipeg and in other cities, as well. There are offices in Calgary and Toronto.
"As one of the fastest-growing tech companies within Canada, there is an immediate need to establish a permanent headquarters that represents our brand, and supports ongoing business development and recruitment of top talent," the statement said. "Our preference is to maintain our position in our hometown of Winnipeg, though we are actively looking at a number of solutions."
Jordan said the Parcel 4 site is definitely a priority for Skip, largely so that it can remain connected to the Exchange District, where many of its employees live. However, before any serious discussion can take place, The Forks must acquire the land from the city and then must calculate what are expected to be significant costs to prepare the site for development.
Jordan said the site will require significant environmental remediation to deal with decades of contamination from its proximity to railway operations. There is also a requirement to do a comprehensive archeological investigation of the site to recover and preserve artifacts dating back to its earliest days as an Indigenous community and, later, as a hub of trading with European settlers.
Negotiations with the city on the purchase of the land has been stalled for many months, largely because the magnitude of remediation costs are not fully known, Jordan said. Work could start immediately if a deal could be struck to acquire the land, he added.
"This is not a clean piece of land," he said. "It's going to require significant work to get it ready."
As exciting as the prospect of a Forks-based SkipTheDishes headquarters is for some, the idea of an office complex big enough to host a company that size will be controversial in some quarters
Quietly, some involved in the downtown development sphere are wondering whether a commitment to the company in one of the most important new developments in downtown Winnipeg is a good long-term bet.
Skip has been growing at an alarming rate. However, despite triple-digit growth in revenues, the company has yet to report a profit and is now battling competition from a flurry of similar online upstarts. Ownership has promised that 2019 will be a profitable year for the company.
Skip has also suffered in the court of public relations, with numerous allegations from its drivers that when all is said and done, it does not pay a fair wage.
There are also concerns about whether a smart park office complex is consistent with the original vision of Railside, a project that has already been nearly a decade in the making.
Railside has been consistently described as a mixed-use development, a term that could very easily incorporate commercial or office space. However, a review of past public presentations and the results of several phases of public consultation has shown a decided preference for maximum amount of residential development with only minimal commercial and office space.
In fact, consultation documents posted by The Forks suggest that those canvassed were quite firm in recommending against large- or medium-scale office development. Some believed it would be incompatible with the rest of The Forks site, while others pointed out that it would be disastrous for The Forks to develop office buildings in a city with a high commercial vacancy rate and an over-abundance of empty lots throughout downtown crying out for investment.
Jordan said he believes what is being contemplated for SkipTheDishes will be consistent with the overall vision for Railside.
"If it's not consistent, we won't do it," he said.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.
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