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CEO fires back at Winnipeg mayor over hotel deal

Russell Hixson
CEO fires back at Winnipeg mayor over hotel deal

True North CEO Mark Chipman sternly rebuked Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman at a press conference Feb. 4, alleging Bowman has been aware of the company’s $400 million downtown development plan for months rather than just "rumours and rumblings" as he’s claimed.

He said the mischaracterization of the facts and suspicion of those involved in the development is making the company "reflect deeply" on where it goes with the project, now known as True North Square.

Chipman played a video he said he showed the mayor at True North’s offices.

The video clearly details the plan to build two towers and a public square on a Manitoba Public Insurance-owned surface-parking lot at 225 Carlton St.

It also shows that they intend to build a third tower on the CentreVenture-owned Carlton Inn site at 220 Carlton St.

The content of the video clashed with the recollections of the mayor, who said he’d seen a video about the project in December, but it lacked key information about the location.

He also said the video only portrayed the project as a "cool downtown development."

Earlier this month, the mayor ordered a public bidding process be conducted when city council learned CentreVenture  had entered in an agreement with True North while the city was still in a contract with Stuart Olson to deliver a hotel project.

CentreVenture is a development corporation created in 1999 by Winnipeg City Council to spearhead the revitalization of downtown Winnipeg,

The mayor also called for a review of how CentreVenture operates and how it reports information to the city.

Stuart Olson was initially contracted by the Winnipeg Convention Centre to manage a $180 million expansion of the facility, but CentreVenture claims it began speaking with True North after Stuart Olson indicated it wouldn’t be delivering the hotel.

Stuart Olson was relieved of the obligation after agreeing to pay a reduced penalty of $3.75 million.

The mayor slammed CentreVenture and the whole process as being secretive, alleging the option agreement and other details of the deal were never communicated to the city.

"For too long, there’s been little to no accountability on how tax dollars get spent on massive projects in Winnipeg done under the cloak of secrecy. Lack of accountability, private discussions, secret documents is no longer acceptable," Bowman said at a press conference Feb. 4.

"The old norm is not how we’re doing things at city hall any more … Information sharing on decisions for millions and millions of dollars, openness, transparency – that is the new norm and the new rule of thumb."

Chipman said that the implication that the deal was improper or secretive is extremely damaging to all involved and that True North’s investment interests in the city are now a matter for reconsideration until trust is reestablished.

"Unfortunately and for reasons we did not create, when you propose to develop real estate in this community that has any public involvement you are presumed to be doing something untoward," he said.

"We can’t and won’t operate in that environment no matter how strongly we feel about a project. We are going to pause and reflect deeply on where we go with this project."

Chipman also responded to allegations of a conflict of interest, noting that he only found out about the 220 Carlton site situation in early 2014 because he sat on the CentreVenture’s board.

He and the agency said he recused himself from any discussions regarding True North’s development plans.

Chipman said his relationship with the agency did not give him an unfair advantage over other companies.

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