Shindico breaks silence on fire hall controversy
Developer insists it did not receive preferential treatment in city deal
Winnipeg real-estate developer Shindico is speaking out about its role in a controversial fire hall land swap, insisting that the company never received preferential treatment in the deal.
Shindico's position contradicts the findings of an external audit, released in October, that suggested the company was favoured when it secured City of Winnipeg contracts to build fire halls.
Bob Downs, Shindico's development manager and the company's point person on the agreement with the city, says the Ernst and Young audit was flawed and didn't have all the facts.
"I don't believe that we got preferential treatment," Downs told CBC News in an interview late Monday.
"I don't believe that there was single-sourcing. I don't believe that there was a land swap. And I know that we were not over budget."
The transaction with Shindico involved the city swapping three properties, including two obsolete fire halls, in exchange for a parcel of land on Taylor Avenue where a new fire station has been constructed.
In the end, the land swap never happened because it was voted down by city council in the fall of 2012.
The Taylor Avenue land is still owned by Shindico, as it was when details of the land deal started surfacing. The city is still in negotiations with the company to buy the land, even though the fire hall has already been built there.
CBC News first reported in August 2012 that Shindico had put one of its properties — a decommissioned fire hall on Grosvenor Avenue — on its website as a property for lease before the deal was completed.
Downs said the property was posted to see if there was any interest in it, but he admitted that doing so may have been a mistake.
"Maybe we shouldn't have done it, but we did do it. Can't take that back," he said.
It was later revealed that Reid Douglas, the city's fire and paramedic chief at the time, had negotiated a land swap deal to exchange the two surplus fire halls and a another piece of property for the land on Taylor Avenue.
Downs said most of the negotiations for the city were done by Douglas, and as far as he knew, the fire chief had the appropriate authority to do so.
"I just assumed that he had the interaction that he needed to have the authority to do what he was doing," Downs said.
The Ernst and Young audit report found that Phil Sheegl, who was the city's chief administrative officer at the time, allowed Douglas to pursue the land deal.
Thought controversy would fade away
Shindico remained largely silent in the ensuing storm of political and public anger over the land swap. CBC News has asked the company to comment on the story as it was developing, but officials provided no comment.
"We thought that if we were to be quiet, eventually it would go away," Downs said.
"It hasn't, and there's a lot of mistaken statements by a variety of people and we decided it was time to get some facts on the table."
He said Shindico, which is one of the largest property developers in Winnipeg, was being linked constantly to the city's breach of standards and practices.
The Ernst and Young audit report found that several city protocols were breached in the land deal, and it inferred that Shindico may have had an inside track on the fire hall deal — something that Downs said is not the case.
"The auditor started by saying Shindico did no wrong, and then made a number of innuendos that led people to believe we must have done something wrong. But we didn't," he said.
Downs added that the company has delivered well-constructed fire halls to the city on time and on budget.
"In my opinion, Winnipeg has four really good fire and paramedic stations — properly designed, properly built, properly located and as a good a price as we could do," he said.
Downs noted that Mayor Sam Katz's friendship and former business partnership with Shindico president Sandy Shindleman had nothing to do with the company landing the city contracts.