The City of Winnipeg will likely chip in more money for the redevelopment of Portage Place, says Mayor Brian Bowman.
Bowman told 680 CJOB Wednesday morning that although the city was initially going to contribute $5 million in funding, it is looking to up that amount to $11.3 million, provided it gets approved by council.
The city, the province and the federal government accepted Toronto-based Starlight Investments’ conditional $69.9 million offer to buy the mall last year — all three governments hold shares in the property through the North Portage Development Corporation.
But this year, Starlight came back to the city to argue it was $60 million short in its plans for the mall and requested $20 million from each level government to complete the project, which will include community spaces and 24-hour facilities.
“The purchase of Portage Place by Starlight was for about $69 million. We later learned there’s a request for $60 million in combined support from all three levels of government — $20 million each,” said Bowman.
“The province has stepped up with more than what was initially requested by the developer with $28.7 million. It’s an important project, and I know the developer applauded that level of support.
“You can expect an amendment to come forward at council tomorrow upping our support to $11.3 million so that the combined provincial and city support meets the $40 million that’s been requested by the developer.”
Read the motion below:
The amendment will be put forward in a motion by Coun. Cindy Gilroy at council Thursday, and should it pass, Bowman said, “all eyes” will be on the federal government, which hasn’t confirmed whether it will pitch in the remaining $20 million.
Bowman said the city’s increased support, however, won’t come without a few demands.
“If we’re going to step up our support, we’re going to look to see, ‘What can the community get?'” the mayor said. “There will be an additional ask as part of this additional support, for housing.
“It’s important, and I think it’s a potentially transformative development for our downtown.”
The developer’s proposal includes plans to build over 500 rental suites, community spaces, a pedestrian walkway and a downtown grocery store.
The federal government has yet to say whether it will add to the pot of money Starlight is asking for.
“It’s something that our government is seriously looking at now through (Western Economic Diversification Canada) and Minister Bains, but right now we are doing our due diligence, we are talking to other governments to try to come up with a solution that works for Starlight and the City of Winnipeg,” said St. Boniface-St. Vital MP Dan Vandal Tuesday, referring to Navdeep Bains, the minister of innovation, science and industry.
“The Government of Canada is aware of Starlight Investments’ request for funding and continues to review it,” a WEDC spokesperson said in an email Wednesday.
Councillor Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre), chair of the city’s property and development committee, told 680 CJOB the redevelopment of Portage Place would be a major benefit to the city.
“The project will have some access for community to be able to go to,” said Gilroy. “It’s a community benefit for all Winnipeggers.
“It’s creating a lot more density within our downtown. One thing I realized with COVID-19 is that there’s not as many people downtown right now working… and we want people to be here after 6:00, so we have a vibrant and safe downtown.
“I think we have to make some changes in that neck of the woods.”
Meanwhile, Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood) said he plans to put forward a competing motion Thursday to grant a total of $18 million to Starlight during the project’s construction and waive up to $2 million in permitting and application fees.
Gilroy wasn’t confident Klein’s plan would work.
“The problem is we have to be able to find the money upfront,” she said of Klein’s motion to grant the developer the money.
“With a rebate, the taxes that are going into that will now be coming back to them.”
Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) told 680 CJOB she felt blindsided by her colleagues’ motions — which she heard about via email.
Lukes said she doesn’t know at this point if she’ll vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the increased funding, and feels there should have been at least a briefing for council before a new motion was introduced.
“It gives me six hours to try and find someone to sit down with and go through the motion, and try to understand why this one’s different.
“I don’t have any data to base this on. If this is the way to do business at City Hall, it’s appalling.”
Despite her concerns over the last-minute nature of the motion, Lukes said she feels the overall project is a good one for Winnipeg.
Starlight has until Aug. 27 to finish its research phase and ink the final deal to buy the mall — a spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
But last week, the developer said the city’s $5 million offer could kill the project.
“What we received was something different and a significant discount to what we were anticipating to help make this project work,” said Starlight Investments head of development and construction Joshua Kaufman last Wednesday.
“If we’re talking about bringing light and bringing eyes on the street … there’s a cost, but there’s also some social benefits that come from this… and, again, it’s hard to put a price tag on that.”