Manitoba Public Insurance is shuffling more than 100 staff from its CityPlace headquarters to other Winnipeg offices, while conducting a "physical space analysis" of the downtown tower that may result in selling some of its office space to new tenants.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew and Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont raised concerns at the legislature Monday about the Crown corporation possibly divesting from one of its prime real estate assets.
"If the government is to sell (CityPlace) off, then we’re going to lose the benefit of owning that asset. There will be a one-time benefit from selling it off, but there won’t be that long-term accrual of lower (Autopac) rates," Kinew said.
Lamont underlined the importance of having government offices located in the city's core.
"It is really important for the government to make a commitment to downtown Winnipeg," he said. "I know that there’s sometimes a struggle, but it makes a difference to have government offices in downtown, for the health of downtown."
Some information about MPI's space considerations was provided to opposition leaders in a briefing note hand-delivered by Premier Brian Pallister in the house last week. Pallister provided more detailed responses to questions they had originally posed to him during a budget estimates hearing earlier this fall.
The document, titled "Matters Under Advisement," lists three objectives for the CityPlace Space Plan & CityPlace Ownership Strategy, to be developed over three years:
● "Reduce the corporation’s CityPlace-based occupancy costs by implementing new industry consistent facility standards."
● "Vacate 70,000 square feet of office tower space to create new revenue generating opportunities."
● "Maximize CityPlace’s value and position the property for potential sale."
Both Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton and MPI spokesman Brian Smiley refuted that MPI currently has plans to sell CityPlace, a 330,000 square foot, nine-storey office building and shopping centre bought for about $80.5 million in 2009.
"MPI has no intentions of leaving, or selling, CityPlace at this time," Smiley said in an email to the Free Press.
"Physical space analyses are conducted on an on-going basis. Recently, MPI staff were informed of relocation of several departments currently located at the CityPlace location. More than 100 staffers will be relocated to MPI’s Bison and Gateway Service Centres," he said, noting the changes are already underway.
"These moves are aimed at maximizing space at CityPlace in efforts to increase revenue and profit for the operation of CityPlace."
It's unclear whether CityPlace has been a money-loser or winner for MPI. Smiley said an answer to that question was "not readily available" Monday.
Wharton told reporters vacant space in the downtown MPI building is being considered for refurbishment.
"I know in discussions with MPI, they’re of course looking to invest in the property to ensure they can attract tenants as they go forward to ensure that they’re maximizing the CityPlace structure," he said.
"So that’s a solid business plan in my view and I believe that’ll work out well in the long run."
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, December 2, 2019 at 7:57 PM CST: Fixes typo.