Manitoba

Make Carlton Inn site available for development now, says mayor

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says he wants an empty lot on Carlton Street available for development now, not six months from now, as the city seeks answers related to the expansion of the RBC Convention Centre nearby.
An architectural rendering of the Winnipeg Convention Centre addition, which is slated to open by the end of 2015. (Number TEN Architectural Group/LM Architectural Group)

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says he wants an empty lot on Carlton Street available for development now, not six months from now, as the city seeks answers related to the expansion of the RBC Convention Centre nearby.

A new hotel next to the convention centre is needed to market the expanded facility and help the city pay for the construction work. Property taxes from a hotel were supposed to help the city cover its share of the $180-million expansion costs.

Stuart Olson, the project's lead contractor, had pledged to find someone to finance and run the hotel, but it was not able to deliver on that portion of the deal, Bowman told reporters last week.

Councillors on the executive policy committee will meet on Wednesday and discuss whether to accept a reduced financial penalty from Stuart Olson for its failure.

CentreVenture, an arm's-length agency of the city that focuses on downtown development, purchased the Carlton Inn and the property in 2013 for just under $6.6 million. The property remains vacant to this day.

On Tuesday, Bowman was responding to an item in a report on CentreVenture that will be considered by EPC at Wednesday's meeting.

It says "that in the event CentreVenture is unable to conclude a development agreement for the Site within six months following the date of Council approval, CentreVenture undertake a public bid process with respect to future development of the Site."

Bowman wants a request for proposals to develop the property as as soon as possible. He said he will propose an amendment at EPC calling on CentreVenture to do so.

"I've said that both privately and I've said that publicly for some time now: there should be an RFP in place," he told reporters, referring to a request for proposals.

Communication efforts muddied, chair admits

Meanwhile, the chair of the convention centre's board admits that communications to find a hotel to go along with the building expansion could have been better.

Bob Silver, chair of the convention centre board, said some of the efforts to find a hotel have become terribly muddied.

"We would have preferred things to be done in a different manner," he said, adding his board was aware that CentreVenture sent at least one letter to a real estate company warning them away from the hotel project.

He doesn't know why they did that.

"We were told that CentreVenture sent some letters out and I don't know the wording, but it had the effect of, perhaps saying you don't have the right to market that property,” Silver said.

"I can't speak for what CentreVenture did. I don't think that what they … would have changed the basic reality of the situation."

In a statement, CentreVenture's board of directors said it has kept the city and the province in the loop on the transactions in question.

"Stuart Olson was tasked with bringing a hotel project to fruition beginning in late 2011. By April 2014, Stuart Olson, despite efforts, was unable to build a hotel to a standard that would meet this objective and so they asked to be relinquished from it and tabled a settlement agreement for $3.75 million," the statement reads in part.

"Through to April 2014, CentreVenture supported Stuart Olson’s efforts, but once the settlement agreement was being pursued between Stuart Olson and The RBC Convention Centre, it was incumbent upon CentreVenture to pursue an alternative development for the site. The City of Winnipeg was aware of our efforts in this regard and it was deemed to be the most responsible course of action."


CentreVenture's full statement

The following statement from the CentreVenture board of directors was issued on Tuesday afternoon:

CentreVenture was created 15 years ago to stimulate downtown revitalization by creating an environment for private sector businesses and government to work together and to promote the downtown to investors, businesses and residents. 

Since that time, the benefits to the people of Winnipeg have been substantial, increasing downtown property taxes by $8.5 million a year. Through the direct efforts of our volunteer board of directors over 73 successful projects including The Bell Hotel, Paterson GlobalFoods Institute, the Avenue Building, Central Park redevelopment and a multitude of new housing and heritage restoration projects have been completed. Young people have new places to study and work, businesses are thriving, families are experiencing the benefits of living downtown, and new attractions are bringing more and more people back to our downtown.  This is the grand vision.

From the outset, the interests of the community and the economic future of downtown have been our guiding principles throughout our involvement with the Carlton Inn site and will continue to be as we move forward on this and other initiatives.

For the past five years, CentreVenture has been focused on building the new Sports and Hospitality District (SHED) in downtown Winnipeg.  It will be a distinct and dynamic new urban neighbourhood with amenities and attractions for all Winnipeggers.  CentreVenture views the SHED as one of the most important initiatives in downtown Winnipeg and, to that end, wishes to ensure we work collaboratively with all stakeholders towards that larger vision.

The first priority, in doing so, was to purchase two properties in the district that posed safety and security issues - the Carlton Inn and The St. Regis Hotel.  This effort was broadly supported by all of our downtown stakeholders. The City and The Province were kept abreast of these transactions, and provided financial support.

For the Carlton Inn site, it was CentreVenture’s view from the beginning that the right calibre of development was required in order to allow the RBC Convention Centre to attract the types of events it was seeking and to complement the overall vision of the SHED.  All parties involved supported this objective.

Stuart Olson was tasked with bringing a hotel project to fruition beginning in late 2011.  By April 2014, Stuart Olson, despite efforts, was unable to build a hotel to a standard that would meet this objective and so they asked to be relinquished from it and tabled a settlement agreement for $3.75 million.

Through to April 2014, CentreVenture supported Stuart Olson’s efforts, but once the settlement agreement was being pursued between Stuart Olson and The RBC Convention Centre, it was incumbent upon CentreVenture to pursue an alternative development for the site.  The City of Winnipeg was aware of our efforts in this regard and it was deemed to be the most responsible course of action.

In the fall of 2014, once the discussions between Stuart Olson and The RBC Convention Centre were far enough advanced that we believed it was certain that the $3.75 million settlement agreement would be signed, we continued to pursue an alternative development for the site.  CentreVenture had obligations with respect to the site and to the community to ensure it was developed consistent with the vision of the SHED and the needs of The RBC Convention Centre.

At CentreVenture we will continue to work with and consult all the downtown partners, including The City of Winnipeg and the RBC Convention Centre on the future of SHED District and the grander vision for downtown Winnipeg. 

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