A Winnipeg city council committee has effectively killed a controversial land swap involving local developer Shindico that exchanged several former fire halls for some land on Taylor Avenue.
The City of Winnipeg had allowed the Fire Paramedic Service to build a new station on the Taylor Avenue property, even though Shindico still owns the land.
As part of the swap, which involved fire paramedic Chief Reid Douglas and Shindico, the land was to be exchanged for two abandoned fire halls and a parcel of land on Berry Street, Mulvey Avenue and Grosvenor Avenue.
On Tuesday, members of council's property committee decided to start the negotiation process towards buying the land from Shindico.
The committee is recommending that both the city and Shindico obtain separate appraisals of the land in order to come up with some kind of purchase price.
Councillors say they want to avoid costly and potentially lengthy expropriation procedures.
"Not so much because we're worried about expropriation but because ultimately, the history of expropriation it does tend to cost more," said Coun. Russ Wyatt.
Added Coun. Jeff Browaty, who chairs the committee: "I don't think there was any appetite from anybody on council to go forward with a land swap. The open market is the fair place to determine market value for these other properties.
"We're going to do an open and transparent process to acquire the land on Taylor, and that's the best that we can do with this ugly situation."
Coun. Harvey Smith says even though the deal is dead, the people behind it should still be own up to their role in it.
"When I hear that there's no accountability [about] who made the decision that upsets me. Covering the tracks upsets me," he said.
"I think they should admit very specifically what occurred and then go forward."
He then took aim at city CAO Phil Sheegl, who has been on the hot seat of late for questionable adminstrative decisions.
"We should demand that Sheegl and the fire chief should own up to the situation. Sheegl, we're paying him big money to be the CAO, he's supposed to be overseeing all of this. Is he asleep at the job?"
Browaty said an upcoming external review of the fire hall transaction may determine who is responsible for the deal, but something has to be done in the meantime.
"We're in the unfortunate circumstance where we have a city fire hall on land we don't own," he said.
"It's completely unacceptable that the public service put us in this position. But the reality is at some point, we need to get title to this land that our fire hall's on."
The committee also voted to put the three fire hall properties up for sale on the open market.
Details of the land swap began to emerge after CBC News reported in August that Shindico had prematurely advertised the Grosvenor Avenue fire hall as an office property for lease.
Downtown office tower contract nixed
The same committee also voted on Tuesday to cancel a contract with Shindico to manage the former Canada Post building downtown.
The 11-storey office building on Graham Avenue will be part of a development that will include the Winnipeg Police Service's new headquarters, once renovations are complete.
Four members of the city's property committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to cancel the contract with Shindico in 90 days.
City officials will then issue a new request for proposals to manage the office building.
Browaty said a previous request for a quote on services at the building did not include managing the property and should have been more specific.
The contract was originally awarded to Shindico when it brokered the city's $29-million purchase of the Canada Post building from the federal government.