A Winnipeg city councillor says she will call for a broad audit of the city's real estate division, as more questions arise about dealings between the city and property developer Shindico.
Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Coun. Jenny Gerbasi says she will introduce a motion at Thursday's council meeting, calling for a real estate management audit that would extend beyond a controversial land swap deal involving several fire hall properties.
The audit Gerbasi is proposing would review the city's "processes and policies used for all major land acquisition, sale, transfers and external leasing activities" during the past five years, according to a draft copy of the motion.
In an email sent on Wednesday, Gerbasi said her motion would be up for debate when council meets again next month, unless someone wants to debate it right away.
Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie and St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding told CBC News they endorse Gerbasi's call for a wider real estate management audit.
"I think that there should be a review of all the real estate operations," Fielding said Wednesday.
"I know Coun. Gerbasi has put forth a motion that will take a look at that on a global basis. I'm supportive of that and I think that all transactions should [be looked] at."
Canada Post building contract in question
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has also been calling for a broad audit of the city's real estate management, as it calls into question more dealings between the City of Winnipeg and Shindico.
"If the average Joe looks into it, they'll be pretty surprised at what's going on," said Colin Craig, the CTF's director in the Prairies.
Craig said in 2009, the city gave Shindico a contract to manage the former Canada Post Building — a deal that is worth more than $150,000 a year to Shindico.
Craig said the city should have put the work out to tender but no other agencies were contacted for the work.
"Obviously we have a concern when the city is handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars without really doing a competitive process to find out what the best rates are," he said.
"To be blunt, I picked up the phone and I called five different big commercial real estate firms in the city and they don't have any confidence in the city of Winnipeg's real estate division…. Each of them said they weren't contacted for this work."
Shindico land swap deal
Shindico is currently at the centre of the fire hall land swap deal, which is about to face an external review.
It comes following weeks of questions about the tentative deal that was to see the city flip two abandoned fire halls and some land over to Shindico in exchange for property on Taylor Avenue where a new fire-paramedic station has already been built.
Details of the land swap began to emerge after Shindico advertised a lease on one of the former fire halls, located on Grosvenor Avenue, even though the deal had not been finalized.
Mayor Sam Katz has authorized the outside review of the deal, but Gerbasi said it is still important to conduct a wider audit.
"I think we should probably go back about five years [of city real estate deals], ultimately," she told CBC News.
"But I mean, if they're going to look at this one in absolute detail then at least we can take what comes out of this and you know, it might indicate a need for further review."
Gerbasi said she hopes the audit will perhaps lead to changes in the way future deals are done by the city.
Shindico and the water park
Shindico's relationship with the city and Katz was also thrust into the spotlight earlier this year when a controversial proposal was pitched to build a $75-million water park near The Forks.
Canalta Development and WaterFun Products want to build a 50,000-square-foot water park and hotel complex on city-owned land across from Shaw Park, home of the Winnipeg Goldeyes Baseball Club — a team that Katz partly owns.
Canalta's agent was Shindico, whose top brass have been Katz's longtime business partners in the Goldeyes.
Canalta eventually pulled the proposal off the table but if council approved the plan, the developers would have received a $7-million city grant.