Mayor Bowman and CentreVenture rift widens over True North deal
Brian Bowman says city's legal counsel received agreement in December but can't share it
The rift between Mayor Brian Bowman and CentreVenture is widening as both sides trade barbs over who knew what and when in the True North deal to develop the Carlton Street property.
CentreVenture released an email Tuesday from suspended CAO Deepak Joshi to Jason Fuith, Bowman's chief of staff. The email gives some detail about the True North development and the conditional offer. The email was dated November 20, 2014. The former CEO came out swinging Tuesday.
"I'm deeply saddened. The recklessness with which this has been handled," said former CEO of CentreVenture Ross McGowan.
"The reputations of myself, my staff, my board. Fifteen years of tremendous growth has just been thrown by the wayside in about 15 minutes. This city is not as good a place today as it was in December and the business community is really questioning, is this the way they want to do business."
Bowman said despite that email, he is still not getting all the information on the deal.
"What we did receive was an email from the administration that did contain some of the information, and not all. We still don't have all the facts," said Bowman. "Last week they provided me with information that still does not clarify to me or for the public, or for council whether 220 Carlton will in fact have a hotel built on it at all."
Bowman told CBC's Information Radio that information about the agreement had been forwarded to the city's legal counsel in December, but not to him or to councillors.
"Despite two EPC meetings, councillors and I still don't have access to the option agreement in question," he said, referring to meetings of his executive policy committee.
"It was sent to the legal counsel at city hall, but under the condition that it not be shared with myself or members of council."
- ON MOBILE? Listen to the interview here.
Mayor Bowman denies his staff received any emails from CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan.
"We were getting tidbits and information from within the administration at city hall, but we still don't have the clear and the whole picture."
Bowman later told reporters that his chief of staff met with McGowan in December and was shown a video about some sort of downtown development.
However, the video did not contain any information about the lot of Carlton Street, and the information provided was not clear, according to the mayor.
"So, the video was shown, but it's unclear whether that related to 220 Carlton or 225 Carlton or some other property downtown," said Bowman. "And that's part of the due diligence process that we're still trying to do to get all the information."
McGowan disputes that and says anyone who watched the video would know what it was about.
"I don't know what could be clearer. When you get an opportunity to see that video it deals very specifically with the site," McGowan said."Very specifically with the context and very specifically with the contents of the development. I don't know how you would walk away saying 'I don't know what that was all about'."
'Rumblings and rumours'
Bowman said there had been "rumblings and rumours" about the agreement early on, but he and councillors have been trying to get more information.
"Let's remember, CentreVenture is an arm's-length agency," he said.
"It's incumbent on the elected members of Winnipeg city council and myself to safeguard taxpayer dollars, and we're still trying to do this. We're trying to get all the facts on the table for everyone."
In late January, council voted to allow construction by Stuart Olson out of an agreement to build a hotel next to the convention centre, which is undergoing an expansion. Councillors also voted to open up the project for expressions of interest.
- Winnipeg city council puts brakes on True North hotel plan
- Convention centre chair says options for EPC are 'bad and worse'
- Conflict of interest questions raised over True North Carlton Street development plans
- CentreVenture arranges 'weird deal' with Canad Inns over Winnipeg hotels
Stuart Olson was originally contracted to handle a $180-million expansion of the convention centre. It was also tasked with attracting a hotel to the adjacent lot owned by downtown development agency CentreVenture.
It was later revealed that CentreVenture had entered into an option agreement in the fall of 2014 with True North, which is owned by the Chipman family, who also own the Winnipeg Jets.
The option agreement gave True North first dibs on developing a parcel of property at 220 Carlton St. CentreVenture owns the empty lot, which is located north of the convention centre.
But the council vote means there will be an open call for proposals for the land, calling the option agreement between CentreVenture and True North into question.
Bowman insisted Tuesday he has not seen the option agreement. He said he wants to see the agreement so his office can be sure once and for all where the proposed hotel development was slated to occur on Carlton Street.
CentreVenture board chair Kurt Vossen said Bowman has not sought out more information about the deal.
"I have not ever been reached out to by the mayor's office, to be asked a question, to be asked for a clarification, to be asked to find or track down information that would be relevant to this decision," said Vossen.
Read documented accounts of email communications between CentreVenture and the city below: