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This article was published 22/4/2012 (2762 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg's plan to offer an Alberta hotelier a $7-million grant to build a hotel, water park and parkade near The Forks is heading toward a squeaker of a vote this week, as city council is deeply divided on the plan.
Council will decide on Wednesday whether to sell the gravel surface lot known as Parcel Four to Drumheller, Alta., hotel chain Canalta, which has offered to pay $6 million for the 2.2-hectare plot at the southwest corner of William Stephenson Way and Waterfront Drive.
The plan would see the city give Canalta $7 million toward the construction of a $75-million complex with 250 hotel rooms, a stand-alone 50,000-square-foot water park and a 450-stall parkade. In return for the grant, Canalta would provide $700,000 worth of water-park admission credits to the city every year for the next 25 years.
Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz recused himself from voting on the proposal last week, citing the proximity of Parcel Four to Shaw Park, home to the Winnipeg Goldeyes, a baseball club he owns.
In his absence, the proposal requires eight friendly votes at city council in order to pass on Wednesday. As of now, six councillors intend to support the plan and seven plan to vote against it.
That means the fate of the Canalta complex rests with a pair of rookie councillors, Thomas Steen (Elmwood-East Kildonan) and Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan), the only two elected officials who have not made their voting intentions public.
"There are so many angles to this," Steen said Sunday in an interview, saying he's received more email about this issue than any other since he was elected to council in 2010. "They're all good opinions. That's what makes this so tough."
Steen said he likes the idea of an affordable hotel in close proximity to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which was envisioned as an educational tourism draw for visiting high school students. But he also said a 50,000-square-foot water park is not up to the scale of a city-wide amenity.
"I'd like to explore a few ideas," Steen said. "I would like to see what the bigger picture would be."
Sharma, meanwhile, said Sunday she has not made up her mind.
"I'm still doing my due diligence. Still awaiting further information on some questions I've posed," she said via email.
Sharma has tended to vote alongside executive policy committee decisions but also has displayed an independent streak. In December, she sided with opposition councillors when she voted against a 20-cent Winnipeg Transit hike that was later rescinded.
Another major factor in Wednesday's vote is council speaker Grant Nordman (St. Charles), a card-carrying Progressive Conservative who also tends to vote alongside EPC.
On Friday, Nordman used his Facebook page to announce he will vote against the Canalta proposal. Nordman said the feedback he's received about the plan from his constituents has been overwhelmingly negative.
"They're telling me, 'Don't do this.' We're not against a water park in principle, but it's the wrong site and the wrong size. Let's do this right — we don't necessarily need one as big as Edmonton's, but lord knows 50,000 square feet is way below the capacity the City of Winnipeg should have," Nordman said.
Nordman also said Canalta, whose properties tend to be highway motels in small Saskatchewan and Alberta communities, is the wrong brand for a plot of land opposite the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
"There's going to be a development on the property. For me, if it was a marquee hotel like a Sheraton or Hyatt that was compatible with the human rights museum, that would be OK. I don't think a water park would be synergistic with the museum," he said.
"The museum won't be a place of sadness, but it will be a place where people will contemplate things. They don't want to see a party house next door."
Nordman said he supports River Heights Coun. John Orlikow's desire to redirect the $7-million grant to other recreation projects. The cash comes from a $43-million recreation fund created by all three levels of government in 2005 following the cancellation of the original Southwest Transitway project.
In 2006, $9 million was set aside for Kildonan Park pool improvements. But that plan was cancelled in 2008 and replaced with $2.8 million in aquatic improvements at Kildonan Park and a new $7-million water-park grant.
In 2008, Nordman voted in favour of a plan to award the grant to Winnipeg's Canad Inns hotel chain, which wanted to build a water park alongside its Polo Park property. That grant was rescinded in 2009 when the city launched a search for a new private partner.
It makes more sense to divide the money up among recreation projects in all 15 city wards, Nordman said. "I don't know why we've married ourselves to this $7 million, which buys less and less the longer we wait."
Where they stand
Council intentions toward Wednesday's vote on the Canalta hotel/water park/parkade proposal. Since Mayor Sam Katz has recused himself from the vote, the plan needs eight votes to pass in a 15-member council.
Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan): Has spoken in favour of the proposal.
Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands): Voted in favour at executive policy committee.
Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo): Voted in favour at EPC and downtown committee.
Justin Swandel (St. Norbert): Voted in favour at EPC and downtown committee.
Dan Vandal (St. Boniface): Voted in favour at EPC.
Russ Wyatt (Transcona): Voted in favour at EPC.
Ross Eadie (Mynarski): Appeared before EPC in opposition.
Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry): Voted against the proposal at downtown committee.
Brian Mayes (St. Vital): Appeared before EPC in opposition.
Grant Nordman (St. Charles): Said he will oppose.
John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry): Appeared before EPC to oppose the proposal.
Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas): Said he will oppose.
Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre): Said he will oppose.
Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan): Has not stated a position publicly.
Thomas Steen (Elmwood-East Kildonan): Said he remains undecided.