Manitoba

True North's Mark Chipman fires back at mayor, puts Carlton Street project on hold

The head of True North Sports and Entertainment is firing back at claims by Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and council that a deal to develop part of the city's downtown is secretive, and is now putting the $400-million proposal on hold as as result.

Mayor Brian Bowman saw video of True North Square proposal in November, Chipman says

True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman is firing back at claims by Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and council that a deal to develop part of the city's downtown is secretive, and is now putting the $400-million proposal on hold as as result. 2:22

The head of True North Sports and Entertainment is firing back at claims by Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and council that a deal to develop part of the city's downtown is secretive, and is now putting the proposal on hold as as result.

Mark Chipman, True North's executive chairman of the board, spoke to reporters on Wednesday about an option agreement his company has with CentreVenture Development Corp. to develop a vacant lot at 220 Carlton St. that CentreVenture owns.

Watch the full news conference using the links below:

A visibly angry Chipman took offence to suggestions that True North and its partners are conducting an "untoward" and back-room deal with CentreVenture, an arm's-length agency of the city that focuses on downtown development.

"The strong inference, of course, is that we've done something wrong, that we have taken advantage for our own personal gain," he said.

"The reckless use of those kinds of terms is, in fact, extremely damaging to all of us involved."

When details of the agreement came to light, it was revealed that Chipman was on the CentreVenture board at the same time his company made an offer to develop the site.

But Chipman said he immediately recused himself from the CentreVenture board as it was making decisions on the deal, including a meeting on June 12, 2014, in which the matter was formally raised for the first time. He said he resigned from the board in July.

"What ultimately occurred was the negotiation of an agreement concluded in September 2014 granting us an option to purchase 220 Carlton at a fair market value price that would be established by the averaging of a number of professional appraisals," he said.

"That option expires in June of this year and has not been exercised."

Chipman said details of a development proposal are typically not made public until the work is confirmed, but he showed reporters a video of the proposal in question — a $400-million hotel, office and residential complex called True North Square that would be coming in 2017.

Bowman saw video of proposal, Chipman says

Chipman also emphatically disputed Bowman's claims that he knows little about the deal.

On Tuesday, the mayor told reporters that his chief of staff met with former CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan in December and was shown a video about some sort of downtown development.

However, Bowman claimed that the video did not contain any information about the lot of Carlton Street, and the information provided was not clear.

On Wednesday, Chipman said he showed Bowman the True North Square video at an "impromptu meeting" following a Winnipeg Jets hockey game at the MTS Centre on Nov. 18.

Chipman noted that Bowman was at the game with Kevin Chief, Manitoba's minister responsible for the City of Winnipeg.

Chief had tweeted a photograph of him and Bowman together.

Chipman says there has been no further dialogue with Bowman since November, but the mayor's staff was kept up to speed on the project all along.

"If we can accept that the mayor's own chief of staff conveyed to the mayor the video did not clearly explain the nature and location of the project, my question to the mayor is was he similarly confused when he, for himself, watched the video and saw the rendering in our offices, which just happened to overlook the two sites?" Chipman asked.

Bowman told CBC News that he connected with Chipman and "saw a video" after the Jets game, but he thought the video was about developing a parking lot at 225 Carlton St. that was owned by Manitoba Public Insurance.

This photograph of Brian Bowman, left, with Mark Chipman was posted on Bowman's campaign website in the fall of 2014. Chipman publicly endorsed Bowman's bid for mayor. (Bowman for Mayor)
"What I saw, my understanding it was 225 and I actually had asked if it was involving the city and was told no," Bowman said.

"But as time went on and I started getting more information after taking office, obviously my goal has been let's look at the process by which the city has been involved with regards to 220 Carlton."

Chief said he also remembers seeing the video and being impressed by it, but he doesn't remember the specifics of the conversation between Bowman and Chipman that night.

Chief told reporters that the public spat going on between Chipman and Bowman will not affect his own relationship with the mayor.

Bowman reiterated that neither he nor council has been allowed to see the option agreement itself because it came with a legal condition that prevented elected officials from viewing the document.

"The representatives from CentreVenture had explained to us last week, on the public record, that we as elected members of council, can't see the details," Bowman said late Wednesday.

"So that's been the challenge all along — that we want to get as much detail as possible."

But Chipman disputed Bowman's argument about the agreement not being accessible to him or councillors.

"Why he has repeatedly alleged that they don't have all the details of our option agreement when he knows it was delivered to the city solicitor on Dec. 1 under conditions that clearly allowed it to be used by the city, its administration and the mayor himself for the collective assessment and due diligence of our project?" Chipman charged.

Rift between mayor, CentreVenture

A rift has formed between Mayor Brian Bowman and CentreVenture about the alleged secrecy surrounding the land deal, which is related to the expansion of the RBC Convention Centre.

We've determined a need to pause and reflect deeply on this project.- Mark Chipman

Construction company 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 CentreVenture.

It was later revealed that CentreVenture had entered into an option agreement in the fall of 2014 with True North. The company, owned by Chipman's family, owns the Winnipeg Jets franchise and the MTS Centre, which is located near the convention centre.

The option agreement gave True North first dibs on developing the Carlton Street property. CentreVenture owns the empty lot, which is located north of the convention centre.

On Jan. 28, council voted to allow construction by Stuart Olson out of an agreement to build a hotel next to the convention centre. Councillors also voted to open up the project for expressions of interest, meaning there will be an open call for proposals for the land.

Chipman said the city may be violating a binding legal agreement by requesting expressions of interest for the land.

As for the future of the project, Chipman said it's "absolutely not a certainty," and he is putting the $400-million proposed development work on hold.

"Unfortunately, and for reasons we did not create, when you propose to develop real estate in this community that has any public involvement, you're presumed to be doing something untoward. We can't and won't operate in that kind of environment, no matter how strongly we feel about a project," he said.

"It is not my purpose to speculate on why we've been questioned and unfairly impugned in this process; that I will leave for others to conclude. However, given that reality, we've determined a need to pause and reflect deeply on this project."

As well, Chipman said he regrets publicly endorsing Bowman last fall's civic election campaign because he's concerned people may now see that endorsement as a way to curry favour with the mayor.

"So I was uncomfortable with it. Do I regret it? I don't regret having supported Brian Bowman. I regret having gone out in public and supporting a politician because there's this inference again, right away," he said.

Chipman also said he had donated $1,500 to Bowman's campaign, the maximum allowed.

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