Monday, August 27, 2012

The Number 12 Fire Hall on Grosvenor in River Heights

The CBC reported last week that Shindico had placed an ad on their website indicating they were leasing the Number 12 Fire Hall. The ad had floor plans and interior pictures indicating exclusive access for the real estate company.

Keep in mind that the property and other empty fire halls had received no public notice indicating their sale and dispersal.

I was aware that a swap of property was under way months ago but city officials assured me that a deal had not been reached. I did not know who was the primary in the swap just that someone had given up a chunk of property for a new fire hall and was asking for a cash and land deal. In hindsight, I ought to have guessed it was Shindico since they owned the land where the new Taylor Avenue fire hall sits.

In principle, I am not against land transfers but it does strike me that it is hard to say what the market would pay for a property if it is never offered. City Councillor John Orlikow was told that the land was not declared surplus. The councillor's office had referred me to city officials several weeks ago where I was told that they were in negotiations for a land transfer. I am not sure how the councillor was caught flat footed and not know it was being disposed of.

And apparently, there is more than one fire hall being negotiated for. The list also includes the stations at Mulvey and Berry Street.

CBC reports this deal has been two years in the making. The 55 year old fire hall has been in play since then but no official settlement has been reached. The head of the property department says the land should not have been advertised as yet and indicated that Shindico was being "aggressive." However, the city official did indicate that the properties had been declared surplus in a council meeting.

John Orlikow says there is a process and indeed he is correct. A vote awaits on final sale or transfer of the property. However, he did seem shocked or didn't seem to recall the land had been declared surplus in a council meeting.

The old Sir John Franklin Community Club originally sold the piece of land to the city for $1 for the fire hall. I don't know if there were any provisos on the sale like there are on the Public Safety Building. Still, the club, recently amalgamated with Crescentwood and River Heights, was also interested in re-acquiring the land.

As indicated, I made a query about the fire hall on behalf of a third party. I had backed off when told that there was negotiations under way and was waiting to hear the city make an official announcement. If a land transfer was announced, I was expecting to hear more about the future of the fire hall. At the very least, I thought I would be able to tell the third party who they needed to contact to talk about leasing or buying.

The CBC made the link to Shindico owners and Sam Katz being business partners in the Goldeyes.  This is not the first time this has been mentioned and it won't be the last. I don't know that any undue influence has occurred here. On the face of it, I'd say no. Shindico had land, the city needed land. Still, with so many financial deals going on, the city needs to be an open and transparent as it can be.

This is also not the first time Shindico has acted ahead of the action. They listed the Winnipeg Square parkade for sale long before the city decided to sell or who would do the selling. There was a tonne of grumbling back then from other real estate companies and city officials. Shindico apologized and said it was just testing the market for the parking lot. This is a bit disingenuous. It is like listing City Hall for sale and then going; Oops! The company laughed all the way to to the bank because they eventually did get the sale and netted a $500,000 commission.

Shindico didn't get to be where they are by being mild. The city can be painfully slow to move but there is a process and if it isn't followed, there can be issues. One big example is the sign that went up on the Boyd Building. There is no doubt the owners thought they would get away with putting it up and that the city would cave in. They didn't.

The city and interested investors need to make sure things follow a protocol. There are many properties that will be coming up for sale soon. Police buildings, golf courses and the like. There can be no more oops moments where suddenly all the golf courses end up on a real estate site for sale.

Be transparent and keep people informed. Nothing worse than feeling that only insiders know what is happening or can make deals.

To close off, I hope the fire halls end up being useful. I think they can.


Anonymous said...

According to the CBC, the then deputy fire chief negotiated this deal with Shindico before the land was even declared surplus.

So all of a sudden it's OK for city employees to go rogue and sell off city property without approval?

John Dobbin said...

Anon: Yes, the CBC has reported more this past Monday about how the deputy chief negotiated the deal.

It looks like the some coucillors were really out of the loop on this.

The city must work things through normal channels or risk losing the ability to do deals over the lack of a consistent process.