As a Winnipeg council committee looks at a proposal for a $75-million water park near The Forks today, questions linger about what role Mayor Sam Katz should play in the politics of the deal.
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.
The developers' agent is Shindico Realty, whose top brass have been Katz's longtime business partners in the Goldeyes.
If council approves the plan, the developers will receive a $7-million city grant, as long as the city get 25 years of access to the water park so that low-income families can go there free of charge.
The water park deal, at the very least, gives the appearance of Katz being in a potential conflict of interest, says Brian Kelcey, a consultant who previously worked as an advisor to Katz.
"It's surprising to me, as somebody who worked in the mayor's office — and whose job it was to prevent the percption of conflicts like this — that somebody hasn't been out front already demonstrating why there's no conflict out here," Kelcey said.
Plan recommended by officials
City officials are recommending the developers' proposal to council, which is expected to vote on it by the end of this month.
Council's standing policy committee on downtown development, heritage and riverbank management will look at the water park plan when it meets on Friday morning.
Katz is a member of that committee, which is chaired by Coun. Justin Swandel.
A spokesperson with the mayor's office did not say on Thursday if Katz would recuse himself from any voting related to the proposed project.
"Ultimately if he had put his assets in a blind trust, as he had promised to, I think 90 per cent of that talk would have disappeared," Kelcey said.
Meanwhile, business owners at The Forks are excited by the prospect of a water park and hotel complex nearby.
"It should be fantastic. It gets to bring additional tourism to Winnipeg and it can be only a positive, that's for sure," said Brad Hewlitt, who runs a souvenir store.