Manitoba

Winnipeg sent Amazon packing when e-commerce giant wanted to build facility, says mayoral candidate

Online retail giant Amazon wanted to build a facility in Winnipeg, employing some 2,000 people, but was turned down by the city administrators and councillors were never told about it, says mayoral candidate Kevin Klein.

Council 'not being informed tells me we have a serious problem within the City of Winnipeg,' says Kevin Klein

Amazon eyed Winnipeg's Transcona neighbourhood for a new facility but was turned down by city administrators, Coun. Kevin Klein claims. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Online retail giant Amazon wanted to build a facility in Winnipeg, employing some 2,000 people, but was turned down by city administrators — and councillors were never told about it, says mayoral candidate Kevin Klein.

An organization representing the company approached the city earlier this year to discuss construction on the city's eastern edge, in the Transcona neighbourhood, Klein said.

As part of the proposal, he said Amazon requested an underpass be built at Dugald Road and Ravenhurst Street. The city's administration declined, according to Klein, who said he learned about the proposal through development community insiders.

A second proposal was then made with Amazon offering to cover the cost of the underpass if the city issued funding through tax-increment financing — a mechanism that uses future tax revenue to stimulate development — over several years to cover some of the cost.

"Again, the city saw no value in the opportunity and declined," Klein said.

He was not aware if the facility was to be a warehouse, distribution centre or a cloud-computing server hub.

Amazon already has two delivery warehouses in the city. One is on Regent Avenue W. in Transcona and the other is on Plymouth Street in the Inkster Industrial Park. Both became operational in December 2021.

As a result of the city's snub, the company's new facility is being built along CentrePort Canada Way — near Winnipeg's northwest edge, but in an area that is within the rural municipality of Rosser, Klein said.

"We lose not only, you know, the opportunity to talk about the fact that we brought Amazon to Winnipeg and … that we're rejuvenating our economy at a time when we need it the most, but we're also losing 50 or 100 years of property taxes that would come from such a facility, and that really bothers me," he said.

Council kept in the dark

And then there's the fact that elected city councillors didn't hear a whisper of the proposal, said Klein, who is on the city's standing policy committee for property, planning and development.

"The whole Amazon issue is very, very, very disappointing. What's more disappointing and more concerning, as somebody who sits on the committee for those kinds of opportunities and arrangements and deals, not being informed tells me we have a serious problem within the City of Winnipeg," he said.

Shawn Nason, the city councillor for Transcona, says he learned about the proposal earlier this year through the landowner's agent. He confirms city administration never brought it forward for elected officials to discuss.

"It's disheartening that the public service didn't think to involve more people, including the local councillor on these conversations," he said.

Nason says he raised the issue with council in February, but didn't mention Amazon as the potential buyer because the landowner didn't want it made public. According to minutes from the Feb. 24 meeting, he lamented "an opportunity for investment there that seems to have gone away" because of a decision by city officials.

"The economic spinoff from something like that in Transcona would have been great," he said on Friday.

Two spokespeople with the City of Winnipeg, when asked about their response to Klein's allegation the city dropped the ball on the project, replied with similar email responses.

"Generally speaking, along with Economic Development Winnipeg, the public service will participate in confidential discussions with businesses and stakeholders about their proprietary operations and interest in Winnipeg. The mayor and members of council are not part of those confidential discussions," said Jeremy Davis, a spokesperson for Mayor Brian Bowman.

"As part of those discussions, multiple considerations would be discussed, and all efforts would be made to reach an agreement that benefits Winnipeg taxpayers, contributes to the economic growth of the city, and meets the needs of the proponents," said David Driedger, a spokesperson for the public service.

Neither spokesperson would confirm or deny an Amazon proposal, saying they could not speak to specifics.

CBC News has contacted Amazon about Klein's claims and is awaiting a response.

Klein said he is aware that certain significant negotiations are confidential, but he believes elected officials should have been brought into the circle.

"We can go in-camera behind closed doors. We go into camera all the time to have discussions about proposals, RFPs [requests for proposal], or decisions that were made in courts, or to get legal opinions. We do it on a regular basis," he said.

"But we never did it for such a big opportunity and it concerns me. Something of this magnitude, out of just pure respect for every part of the city and every elected official, you should have sat them down and had a discussion.

"I think there would have been a different result."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Bartley Kives and Caitlyn Gowriluk

now