The James Avenue Pumping Station in Winnipeg's Exchange District closed down in 1986. ((CBC))

Change may be on the way for the long-vacant James Avenue Pumping Station, which has sat empty for years since Winnipeg's downtown development agency bought it back from a developer for five times more than its sale price.

The turn-of-the-century pumping station, which fed one of only two high-pressure firefighting systems in North America, has been shut down since the mid-1980s.

CentreVenture sold the building in 2001 for $150,000, including all of its original equipment and machinery, much of which is believed to still be operational.

But the CentreVenture later had a change of heart after a nightclub proposed for the building didn't mix with plans for high-end condominiums along nearby Waterfront Drive.

The agency bought the building back for $750,000 in 2004.

Four years later, the building is still on the books — and still sitting empty. But agency president Ross McGowan says the wait might now be over.

"We do have a conditional offer on the building as we speak right now, with a group from out of town," he said Tuesday. 

Officials refused to name the group involved, but said the development could include restaurants, a market and a cultural component.  The offer expires in August.

McGowan said the agency believes it will eventually make more money on the building than it has spent.

"Hindsight is great. I think what we're trying to do here is move forward and not look backwards," he said. "There were things done during CentreVenture's infancy that, to do it over again, probably wouldn't have been done this way."

Winnipeg property developer Hart Mallin says if CentreVenture wants to speculate on property, they should deliver a return.

"The whole story of buying and selling and buying it back — it's OK, if there's an actual use to be put to it," he said. "We're waiting."

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz concedes mistakes might have been made in the past, but he's confident in the direction the nine-year-old agency is now headed.

"In the past, I don't believe in the position of the CEO they had a lot of experience or expertise. I believe now they do," he said. "I am quite confident that someone like Mr. McGowan could do a deal as well as someone like Sam Katz or any developer."

CentreVenture officials said if the conditional offer falls through on the pumping station, the agency might consider developing the property on its own. It's not clear how much private-sector involvement that might require.