Winnipeg's water park controversy: Hard facts with a tittle of speculation.
We did our best to ignore the water park story that dominated the news in Winnipeg last week.
We didn't read the newspaper stories, watch the TV newscasts or follow the debate on Internet forums. What for? It was just another example of another backroom boondoggle by the most dysfunctional city council in the country. So what else was new?
But after a personal request from a trusted reader to try and make sense out of the mess, we started collecting info. Then, on the weekend, the debate lurched from farce into delusion, and we couldn't turn away from the train wreck they call City Hall.
So....in no particular order, here's what we uncovered:
* the land in question is nowhere near The Forks (or what everybody knows to be The Forks)
* CentreVenture may have kiboshed an offer of a better water park three years ago
* Admission to the proposed water park would be $35 a head, for children at least
* They call it " one of the most valuable pieces of publicly owned property in Winnipeg", but we're paying a million dollars to a developer to take it off our hands
* The Winnipeg Free Press continues to rewrite history as far as the Aspers are concerned.
1. It's NOT AT THE FORKS. Repeat. NOT at The Forks. And, in case you weren't paying attention, it' s NOT AT THE FORKS!
Here's a map.
It is NOT AT THE FORKS, so relax. No green space is being lost. The "city owned land" known as Parcel Four is an empty lot that was being used by the Goldeyes baseball team for parking. That green triangle at the top right is the ball park.
The confusion stems from the fact that the land falls within the Forks development zone which stretches along the Red River almost as far as Higgins Avenue.
2 . If this land is so valuable, why are we giving it away for free?
Free? Hell, we're paying the developer a million dollars to take it off our hands.
The developer wants to, ahem, "buy" the land for $6 million while the City of Winnipeg gives Canalta $7 million to offset the cost of a water park. Not bad, eh. They make a million dollars without turning a spoonful of dirt.
The twist is that whoever builds a water park has to agree to provide $700,000 worth of admissions per year for 25 years to youth who are underprivileged, poor, disadvantaged, or however you want to categorize them.
3. There's something funny going on here. We had a better deal three years ago.
In 2009, the mayor's business partner Sandy Shindleman came to the city with a proposal. He was acting as an agent, it was said, for an unnamed hotelier (unnamed to the public, that is) who was offering to buy Parcel Four for $7.7 million. The deal included a 70,000 square foot water park.
The deal was never consumated for reasons unknown.
Up to last week, Executive Policy Committee was prepared to sell the same land to an Alberta-based hotel chain for $6 million and a commitment for a 50,000 square foot water park.
Less money, and a water park that's almost a third smaller. What's wrong with this picture?
4. Who made that 2009 offer and why was it rejected?
Just by coincidence, City of Winnipeg reps went to Quebec in 2009 to visit the headquarters of Groupe Germain, the people behind the ALT Hotel that's now being built in the heart of downtown Winnipeg right across the street from the MTS centre on Portage Avenue. They call ALT Hotel a "boutique" hotel. Is that anything like a "signature hotel"?
Did CentreVenture poach the hotel from Forks North Portage for its own development downtown and kill the 2009 water park?
City councillors know a lot more than they're telling, but they signed a confidentiality agreement in 2009 when being briefed on that water park/hotel project. Now they're pretending its all new to them.
5. Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett should read his own newspaper, especially the online comments. He wrote Monday:
"The city has promised it will have access to $750,000 annually in admissions to the water park. But we don't know how many admissions that translates to because we don't know how much it will cost to use the water park. We also don't know how the city will identify beneficiaries of the free admissions. Will there be an income test? Or will the city ask outside groups to make the decision? Nobody knows."
Well, maybe nobody at the Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe knows.
Two weeks ago, Deputy Mayor Coun. Justin Swandel was responding to criticism of the water park proposal via email (which was posted on a FP comments section) in which he said:
Divide 700,000 by 20,000 and you get $35 per head.
Lett's FP colleagues, Barley Kives and Jen Skerrit reported April 12 that "admission credits would be doled out to low-income families through social-service organizations."
"How Parcel Four came to be connected to this development is unclear. The city first sought expressions of interest for the water park in the spring of 2008. Although it is not known exactly how many proposals eventually came forward, it seemed to boil down to three proposals from two different developers. Canad Inns suggested a water park and hotel addition at its Polo Park site. Creswin Realty came forward with a sprawling indoor/outdoor proposal for Kilcona Park and a smaller hotel and water park for Parcel Four."
"In June 2008, the city announced Canad Inns won over the Creswin plan. The city never indicated publicly why Canad Inns triumphed, and according to Creswin, the city never issued reasons privately for its decision."
The only thing wrong with this version of history, is everything.
- Three expressions of interest were submitted to the city.
Creswin also suggested a similar development at Kilcona Park which is at Lagimodiere Blvd. and Springfield Road. Note that neither of the Creswin water park proposals involved Parcel Four.
. Highlights of the proposal relative to the EOI Review Criteria are as follows:
• Property for the development is owned by Canad Inns and is zoned for the new development.
• Proponent has submitted evidence of financial capability for the project.
• Proponent has substantial experience in waterpark development and a proven track record.
• Project will utilize the $7 million contribution from the Recreation and Leisure Facilities program for the Water Park Development.
• Proponent will enter into a Public Access Agreement as well as provide in-kind services / reduced admissions at $700,000 per year for 25 years
• Project has good transportation access via vehicular, pedestrian and transit routes.
• The project is in close proximity to other major city and tourist venues (Polo Park Shopping Center, Canad Inns Stadium, etc.).
• Existing municipal services and transportation infrastructure are sufficient to adequately service the site.
• The Facility Design and components meets the requirements of the EOI in both facility size and components/features requested
" the proponent does not own nor do they have options on the proposed site. The purchase and assembly of numerous active business and residential properties is required. The proposal did not demonstrate that the land assembly required for the project is feasible within a reasonable timeframe and this was reflected in the evaluation score."
The Creswin/Kilcona Park proposal suffered from the same failings.
"... the main issue with the proposal is again its feasibility to be operational by approximately November 30, 2009 as specified within the EOI & Q. The proponent would need to negotiate and purchase the land from the City of Winnipeg. Even if the City agreed to sell the land, Creswin would still require rezoning, and a Plan Winnipeg amendment to enable the proposed use. The proposal did not demonstrate that the assembly and servicing of land required for the proposal is feasible within a reasonable timeframe and this was reflected in the evaluation score."
Nothing spoils a good story like the facts.
Facts, however, are irrelevant to columnists, as any reader of the Winnipeg Free Press can tell. In Saturday's paper, Lett's colleague Gordon Sinclair, must we add Jr., simply concocted his own version of reality for why the public overwhelmed city councillors with objections to the most recent water park proposal.
It was, he said, a universal agreement that a water park didn't fit the majesty of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Never mind that the CMHR barely registered in the hundreds of comments posted about the water park, or that the museum spokesman had no comment about the water park when asked directly. A good delusion needs no facts to support it.
But, you know what they say...always leave 'em laughing and what a better way to end a tumultuous week at city hall.