City committee votes to forgive tax bill on ballpark parking lot
Winnipeg's executive policy committee has voted to approve a new lease for Riverside Park Management and to forgive $233,000 in taxes owed by the company for a parking lot used by the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the baseball team owned by Mayor Sam Katz.
Riverside Park Management has been arguing with the city over the value of the gravel parking lot next to Canwest Park. The assessed value of the land nearly doubled to $3.96 million in 2006. Riverside, whose lease prohibits development on the land, argued it can't afford to pay the taxes on that value.
The mayor's majority ownership of the Goldeyes, who sublet Canwest Park from Riverside, has made the debate one of the most politically charged and nasty debates at Winnipeg city hall in recent years.
The mayor, who sits on the seven-member executive committee, recused himself from the discussion and vote, but some voiced concerns about the panel's ability to make a fair decision on the matter, since Katz appoints its member councillors.
Coun. Dan Vandal made a presentation to the committee and called Riverside Park Management a "red herring company" set up to benefit the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
In the end, the committee voted to amend the non-profit company's lease with the city and not pursue payment of the outstanding $233,000 tax bill. Coun. Russ Wyatt voted against the motion.
The entire debate, with many more players, will be repeated at city hall next week, when the city's full council considers the matter.
Coun. Gord Steeves, who ran the committee meeting, admitted before it took place that it was an uncomfortable situation.
"I think everyone agrees [the ballpark] is a great amenity for the city. The difficulty is that the ballpark has a relationship with the city. We're fiscally involved with the ballpark," he told CBC News.
"It would appear that we're going to have two relationships with Sam Katz: one as mayor and one as a proprietor of the ballpark. And it's a difficult balance to strike."
Katz was president of Riverside until April
Throughout the debate over the parking lot, Katz has denied any conflict of interest, saying he has no connection with Riverside Park Management.
But company documents obtained by CBC News show Katz was a director and president of Riverside until April, when he was replaced by the Goldeyes' chief financial officer, Jason McRae King.
Property developers Robert and Sandy Shindleman, Katz's partners in the Goldeyes, were listed as directors of Riverside as late as 2006.
A current roster of company directors is unavailable. Officials at the company's office said Riverside didn't file an update last year.
The firm has until next month to get up to date or be delisted as a registered company in Manitoba.