Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz says there could have been much better communication between everyone involved in an unusual land swap involving two former fire halls, but the deal was not a secret.
'Everyone knew the properties were going to be sold…. There's no misunderstanding on that part.' —Mayor Sam Katz
Katz told CBC News late Tuesday that everyone on council knew about plans to close fire halls on Grosvenor Avenue and Berry Street, and open a new one on Taylor Avenue, in order to modernize the city's fire facilities.
Fire Chief Reid Douglas said Monday that he had personally negotiated an agreement with Shindico, a local developer, to swap the two halls, plus a parcel of land on Mulvey Avenue, in exchange for the Taylor Avenue property where the new fire station sits.
News of the land swap have caught some city councillors by surprise, including River Heights Coun. John Orlikow, whose ward includes the Grosvenor Avenue fire hall, and Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan.
But Katz insisted that everyone on council knew the properties would be sold or swapped.
"There could have been much better communication with everyone," he said.
"Everyone knew the properties were going to be sold. That was out there in the open over two years ago. That part is black and white. There's no misunderstanding on that part."
Katz said he sees nothing wrong with Douglas making the land swap deal.
"We have to decide on how the land is acquired, by purchase or by swap," Katz said.
"In the end, as long as it's done based on fair market value, that's really what everybody should be concerned about."
Public interest must be upheld: Orlikow
Orlikow said he has been meeting with community stakeholders for a year to discuss ways to make use of the property.
"I don't care what semantics you want to use — swapping, selling, whatever — there's a public interest here that always has to be upheld to the highest standard. This is not it," he said Tuesday.
Pagtakhan was chair of the city's protection and community services committee when in 2010, he had a first look at a plan to modernize the fire department's facilities.
However, he said councillors did not see details of the land swap.
"I think it's putting the cart before the horse if you have … the [fire] chief telling us that this is the best deal for the city without us, without council, seeing the relative information," Pagtakhan said.
Barry Thorgrimson, the city's director of property, planning and development department, told CBC News he also did not know anything about the land swap, even though some of his staff were working on the deal.
"It makes you wonder what's happening at city hall with management. There are certain protocols that need to take place relative to land matters," Pagtakhan said.
Council has to approve the land swap deal this fall. If it is not approved, Katz said the city will have to purchase the Taylor Avenue property, which is valued at $1 million.