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Winnipeg councillors divided over ‘atrocious’ last-minute Portage Place deal

The proposed street view of the new development at Portage Place.
The proposed street view of the new development at Portage Place. Starlight Investments

The decision to hand over $20 million to the developers of Portage Place to support the mall’s makeover has Winnipeg city councillors divided.

Initially, the city planned on giving $11.3 million — itself an increase from an initial pledge of $5 million — to Toronto-based developer Starlight Investments.

An amended motion — with the $20 million price tag — passed nine to seven at Thursday’s council meeting.
Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) told 680 CJOB the whole process was “atrocious”, and that he voted against the motion.
Yesterday, I walk in at 8:45 and I’m told, ‘oh, it’s $20 million now, just vote for it’,” he said.
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“Well, no, I’m not gonna just vote for it. We didn’t ask public opinion, we didn’t do any due diligence, I felt… we cut off the question period when Starlight was there.
“I had questions about their profitability, didn’t get a chance to ask.”
Mayes said if the city is throwing such a large sum of money at a project, it should have required much more prep work than a last-minute debate with zero public input.

“It was very inept, the way we — I won’t even use the term bargain, that would suggest the other side moved somewhat,” said Mayes.

“If you simply cave in and give the other side what they wanted and don’t even give the public a chance to come down and talk, I think it was very badly handled.”
Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James) voted in favour of the increased funding and told 680 CJOB that while procedures could’ve been handled better, it’s important to look at the big picture.
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“You never like to be at the 11th hour, trying to make decisions and adjustments on the fly, but nonetheless, that’s where we found ourselves,” he said.
“The question is, do we make a decision — do we do the best that we can in that moment? I believe that we ultimately did.”
Starlight says there’s still more negotiation to be done but this is a step in the right direction.
The developer plans to add more than 500 rental suites, community spaces, a pedestrian walkway and a downtown grocery store to the beleaguered mall.Starlight has asked the city, province and federal government for help in the form of $20 million each over a five-year construction schedule — money it says is needed to shore up a $60 million funding gap.
Click to play video 'Starlight Investments’ Josh Kaufman says speaking to the community is vital to shaping the project' Starlight Investments’ Josh Kaufman says speaking to the community is vital to shaping the project
Starlight Investments’ Josh Kaufman says speaking to the community is vital to shaping the project – Dec 19, 2019