A Winnipeg city committee has approved $5 million in funding towards a massive redevelopment of Portage Place, but it’s $15 million less than the developers were asking for.
Winnipeg’s executive policy committee passed the matter on to full council on Wednesday, and it will be debated next week.
The head of development and construction for Starlight Investments Inc., Joshua Kaufman, told 680 CJOB Wednesday afternoon that the company was hoping for more.
“We were anticipating that the city was going to be stepping up in similar commitments that we’re anticipating for with the feds as well as the province,” he said, noting that the company has asked for $20 million from each level of government.
“What we received was something different and a significant discount to what we were anticipating to help make this project work.”
Toronto-based Starlight plans to add more than 500 rental suites, community spaces, a pedestrian walkway and a downtown grocery store to the beleaguered mall.
Now the developer is asking the city, province and federal government for help in the form of $20 million each over a five-year construction schedule.
That money is needed to shore up a $60-million funding gap. The province has agreed to back the project, while the feds have not yet responded.
Starlight said it looked at other options to reduce the cost of the project, including negotiating a lower purchase price of the mall from The Forks.
But the developer said The Forks needs all of that money to remain financially independent, so it wasn’t an option.
Mayor Brian Bowman said the project is an exciting opportunity for downtown Winnipeg but that the deal doesn’t support economic growth and development the way it should.
“Our return on investment is less than $5 million,” said Bowman. “Over the life (of the project), there’s about $83 million total in revenues for all levels of government, and we are definitely the minority partner in terms of that return on investment.”
Kaufman said he strongly disagrees, arguing the city gets the most return on investment on the project.
“It’s been quite publicly displayed in terms of all the benefits that come from this project and the catalyst for change that we’re going to see that’s going to happen in downtown,” he said.
“Whether we’re talking about the new facades, we’re talking about opening up corridors from Portage Avenue, North Ellice Avenue.
“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.”
— With files from Skylar Peters, Jeff Braun and Richard Cloutier
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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