The Winnipeg media followed Lloyd Axworthy like lemmings to the sea yesterday, except the sea was actually his new piece of pavement...
...the former north Spence Street, now handed over to said Lloyd without a blueprint or a dime to back his pedestrian mall model of improving downtown Winnipeg.
Remember how the Ax redefined the core area when a federal minister to include his riding of Fort Rouge? Well, now, miraculously, 'downtown' includes his new riding - er, fiefdom- the U of W.
Former CBC talking head Jennifer Rattray, in her new role as University of Winnipeg talking head, could barely contain herself when introducing her boss as the man who was the "champion" of the mission to recapture Spence Street from the evil motorists.
This latest social engineering project led by the man who brought us the Core Area Initiative in the Trudeau era, is built on a bewildering number of twists and turns overlooked by MSM.
This is the first time anybody other than business owners are talking about the need to address safety downtown. As you will recall, last year it was certainly never an issue under the former mayor, a stance repeated by his chosen successor who openly declared while debating other candidates on CBC Radio that downtown was safe.
The only media outlet to raise the red flag on the growing dangers to pedestrians in the U of W area was The Black Rod, last February, when we reported that security guards at Portage Place, a mere 3 blocks east of the campus, were wearing body armour.
We asked how average people were supposed to feel safe when they walked the streets of downtown with the same threats facing them. Nobody publically addressed this situation because it did not fit the rah rah attitude encouraged-- nay, demanded--of all 'team players' to promote downtown Winnipeg.
Now that the multi-titled Lloyd Axworthy is involved, suddenly---- an about face.
When they surveyed the neighborhood soliciting comments about the 'benefits' of expansion of the U of W campus, to their tremendous surprise no one spoke about green space or training opportunities.
Unlike Lloyd and his well-heeled cohorts who retreat to their estates in the city's more prosperous suburbs and enclaves, people who live on streets and avenues bordering the university knew and told - that the safety on their sidewalks was their number one issue.
And voila, in a press release Monday morning the U of W claimed "an invigorated attitude toward campus and community safety". Their expert faculty and volunteer student force will patrol the area all the way to Broadway, armed with - well, nothing.
OK, armed with training in problem-solving, which will go over big with problem-causing members of the Indian Posse we are sure.
It will be interesting to see if El Commandante of this peacekeeping force, His Lloydship, ever takes a tour of duty on those mean streets with the pimply- faced sophomores volunteering to back down sniffers and gangbangers with a wagging finger.
This sudden concern about security on the streets also validates the anti-panhandler initiative of Mayor Sam Katz, which, of course, is being opposed by those darlings of the campus crowd, Benham and Gerbasi. The duo were conspicous by their absence as Axworthy and hostess Rattray gushed about the cooperation of His Worship and the sudden commitment of the U of W to improving the ability of citizens to walk the streets without feeling threatened.
While the usual Liberal Party smiley-faces- Anita Neville, David Northcott, John Angus, grinned like a bunch of... well, politicians, at Axworthy blowing kisses in Katz's direction, one of the usual suspects was not seen, nor spoken of, the entire time. That's because the migration of crackheads, aggressive addicted panhandlers and roving girl gangs to the University's doorstep is the legacy of that 'man who shall not be named.'
But we will.
Urban visionary Glen Murray, take a bow.
While the former mayor was building over-priced world-class bridges and proposing world class new deals that went nowhere, he somehow failed to see the state of the neighborhoods or to hear the panic coming from the homeowners affected by the daily deterioration of their community.
How the mighty have fallen. First the good citizens of Charleswood showed their appreciation of his civic leadership by showing him the exit door. Then the Prime Minister had to shoehorn him into a patronage position against the objections of the entire opposition. And now he's persona non grata in the city he loved almost as much as himself.
So, bidding a not-so-fond farewell to Glen Murray's vision of downtown, the University turned to an august body of experts to handle the stickhandling of the entire project. They sit as the board of directors of an "arms-length agency", the University of Winnipeg Renewal Development Corporation.
The Black Rod decided to find out who sits at the end of Lloyd's arm on this non-profit board. Readers may wish to brace themselves.
The first name on the list is not at all disconnected to Lloyd's arm, because it is the man himself. That's right, Lloyd Axworthy is advising himself on his own project.
The second seat on the board is filled by former U of W student Jim August, who you may remember as the honcho of Lloyd's last megaproject, the North Portage Development Corporation. The success of that idea is self evident to anyone who has walked the empty pedestrian mall behind Portage Place, the Promenade, which was, in its time, proclaimed as the solution to revitalizing downtown Winnipeg.
But it is the third member of the board whose role is most curious, given that Axworthy never mentioned his name yesterday even though everyone else has been talking about him for months and months now. Why were you standing at the back of the crowd ?
Step up and don't be shy, Sherman Kreiner.
Yes, THAT Sherman Kreiner.
The man of the "multiple bottom lines" at the Crocus Investment Fund himself.
The man whose leadership and vision are currently the subject of multiple, criminal and civil investigations. One supposes he has some spare time to devote to choosing what kind of flowers should go into the oversized urns on Spence, in between sessions with his lawyers to prepare for Examinations for Discovery.
The Black Rod has frequently made reference to Kreiner's dedication to the Mondragon model of anti-capitalist capitalism. Why do we sense that Lloyd Axworthy's undefined plans are going to turn out looking a lot like Kreiner's Crocus plan to rehabilitate downtown Winnipeg.
What plan, you ask??
Why, the plan set in motion one year ago with the announcement of The Manitoba Property Fund, an announcement sadly lost in the rubble of the Crocus collapse.
But before it slipped into obscurity, The Manitoba Property Fund was paraded forth with great fanfare. Crocus was throwing in a million bucks and would manage the fund and collect handsome fees. The other partners, the Workers Compensation Board investment fund and the Teachers' Retirement Allowances Fund (TRAF) were each kicking in $10 million, and junior partner Shelter Canadian Properties Ltd. was topping up the $25 million fund.Two years earlier at a Crocus Fund annual general meeting Kreiner spun his vision of how Crocus could help remake the city.
Faithful scribe Martin Cash wrote that Kreiner told shareholders that
"Crocus now has the standing in the markets to leverage new institutional investors to band together with some of its existing retail investors to form new capital pools which would allow Crocus to invest in new areas. For example, Kreiner said Crocus is keen to become active in more downtown revitalization investing."
Oh, those glory days when even boring prattle like that sounded like Shakespeare.
Last year, the development fund became a reality. The money was in the pot and Sherman Kreiner told the Free Press he would make a formal announcement in in Crocus's offices the restored Ashdown hardware store building on Main Street.
"There are a number of different reasons we had for holding the meeting here," Kreiner said. "We wanted to show what the building means to the community and the energy that exists around here."
We swear, Lloyd Axworthy couldn't have said it better.
"The purpose of the fund would be to invest in real estate primarily focused on downtown, primarily focused on the historical sector of downtown, Kreiner said. The $25 million pool of equity would be expected to leverage an additional $75 million in mortgage financing. "
The money is still there, $10 million from the WCB (thank you, Wally Fox-Decent) and $10 million from TRAF (thank you, Alfred Black) and the $25 million turns into $100 million according to Shelter's Arni Thorsteinson.
So nobody should be surprised when Kreiner calls up his old pals and pitches the wonders of Lloyd Axworthy's vision as good reason to channel the money to Spence Street.
Who knows. Maybe he had it in mind all along. In developing the framework for the Manitoba Property Fund, Kreiner and his partners decided they "will use the CentreVenture boundaries as its guidelines -- the Assiniboine River to the south, the Red River to the east, Higgins Avenue to the north and Sherbrook Street to the west. "
And how convenient that the mandate went from focusing on heritage buildings like the Crocus headquarters to "a range of projects including industrial, commercial or residential and the restoration of old buildings or the construction of new ones."
Which sounds amazingly like Lloyd Axworthy's announcement yesterday.
Somebody should be counting the bottom lines for the U of W Renewal Development Corporation.
But Sherman is not the U of W's only hope for pedestrian mall funding. There's always you, the taxpayer.
Last month the federal government submarined Sam Katz at every turn over the New Deal's gas tax rebate and the mayor's insistance that the money be used to fix roads and sidewalks. Then at the event, Katz told the press the top 2 issues for Winnipeggers are the streets and safety. The feds told Katz the rules are the gas tax money must go to-- you guessed it-- so-called "green projects" that carry the union label - sustainable development.
And oh look, just a week ago, what new department did Axworthy reveal was in the plans for his restructured administration? A "sustainable development" office. To coincide with -- the anti-car, pro-transit, pro-bicycle -- new Spence Street mall.
What fate. The federal government can address both of Katz's priorities by handing the money, not to City Hall, but to the former Liberal Godfather in Manitoba, Lloyd Axworthy hisself.
Not that everybody will be happy with that arrangement, as The Black Rod reported on February 4th. Let us repeat:
"It's hard to be a sugar daddy. Nobody knows it better than Reg Alcock...But Sam (Katz) doesn't want to play. How can Reg get credit for doling out money if the damn mayor wants to negotiate about which pocket the money comes out of. Talk about playing hard to get...And then, if that wasn't bad enough, there's the Lloyd problem. You see, Lloyd has realized that in city politics the action is in real estate. So he's become a developer. And instead of handing out money, he expects to call in a few markers and start collecting the dough instead."
It may be instructive that even though Lloyd could haul back from vacation for the festivities, Reg Alcock was not there to take credit for anything,which is extremely unusual. Instead he was represented by the deep-backbench MP, Anita Neville, who hinted "the federal government is watching". No doubt Lloyd got the hint, that Reg is the one controlling the money and Lloyd better understand who the alpha male is in this town.
Lloyd may have to be satisfied with the titles Dr. /President/Champion/El Commandante in his own house, and with basking in the adulation of Jennifer Rattray and the media lemmings. Because Reg Alcock is looking out for his own security as the New Godfather.
A quick BWAA HAA HAA to the Free Press.
In Tuesday's paper Randall Kings wrote that "contrary to reports" Brad Pitt will be shooting his Jesse James movie in Winnipeg instead of Montreal.
Nice try, but The Black Rod reported last week that Brad was definitely on his way.
And almost three weeks ago, the full details of the shooting schedule, the audition dates and even where Brad and Angelina will be staying in Alberta were shared with our loyal readers.
MEMO TO NEWSROOMS (FOLLOW UP) :
The Black Rod, August 6th: There's a gang war going on in the heart of the North End.
Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg Sun, CJOB, CBC, and TV newscasts, August 7th:
Man arrested for kidnapping Victim bound and beaten and stuffed into the trunk of a stolen car that crashed in East Kildonan. A suspect arrested near Main and Redwood in the north-end. Police believe the incident is gang related.
Winnipeg Police Aug. 9th:
Firearms Incident Shortly before 5:00 a.m. this morning a home in the 200 block of Cathedral Avenue sustained a number of gun shots. The residents of the home were awakened by the sound of gun shots and observed damage to the rear window. No one was injured. The District # 3 Major Crimes Unit is investigating.
CityTV reports the residents at 285 Cathedral had just moved in a couple of days earlier. Obviously bringing heat with them. The baby carriage in the front yard tells how badly this could have turned out. Police can't confirm but think this may be a gang related incident.