Monday 12 November 2012

Shindico sanity check

It's always good to get all sides of the story, and until now we didn't have Shindico's perspective on the Winnipeg Fire Hall Debacle. Finally, belatedly, we have heard from the company behind this mess in Bartley Kives' Freep article No closed-door deal: Shindico.

According to Shindico's Bob Downs, everything that happened was just a natural evolution of a perfectly legitimate deal. It was all very straight-forward and nobody did anything wrong. However I believe this view requires a bit of a sanity check:

Re. building fire hall no. 12 on Shindico-owned land:
Shindico suggested its own land on Taylor Avenue as the home for the new Station No. 12. "You build a building on land that doesn't belong to the city, because if you don't, it doesn't get built," said Downs
There may be some truth to this. The city may not own any suitable land in the area, but does it have to be built on Shindico land? Well Shindico certainly did own a crap-load of land in the area

... but this area south of River Heights is far from being fully developed. There certainly must be other suitable property available. What about, for instance, the still-vacant site at the south-west corner of Taylor and Waverly? A very accessible location assessed at only $378,000. Who owns that??

But let's assume for a moment that the most appropriate parcel of land was in fact owned by Shindico:
"Now we have land that we own, and we don't sell land."
To resolve this issue, the land swap was born.
 "We don't sell land " he says. "We" being Shindico Realty, a realty company. Maybe they more commonly develop land, but they certainly can and do sell land. At the end of the day they will end up selling this land to the city anyhow because if they don't it will get expropriated.

Re. the 3-for-1 land swap:
The original land swap involved only two properties -- Shindico's Taylor plot and a vacant parcel of city land at Mulvey Avenue East in Fort Rouge.
Douglas, however, came back and informed Shindico the police still required part of the Mulvey land for its river-patrol unit. So a chunk of this land was carved off. "I said, 'What do we do about the balance?' (Douglas) said, 'The only thing we have is the two stations that are being replaced,' ".
The eventual plan to trade Taylor for the Mulvey, Grosvenor and Berry properties was a compromise solution.
So we are told that originally it was going to be a straight swap between the Mulvey site, assessed at over $1 million, and the Taylor site assessed at less than half that amount*, but because the police required "a chunk" of the 4.2 acre Mulvey site, it evolved into a swap between the Mulvey site and the Berry fire hall site and the Grosvenor Ave site. Some kind of compromise that is.

In other words, "a chunk" of the Mulvey Avenue location -- perhaps 20% -- is equivalent to the infill properties on Berry St and Grosvenor Ave combined.  That math doesn't add up in my mind.

Why not just take Mulvey off the table and propose a swap of one or both of the other locations? Why add them on to Mulvey? Better yet, why not just propose to buy the land off Shindico to begin with?
"You have to understand the reason we wanted to swap the land is then we can make something out of the land. It benefits both the city and us," Downs said.
This itself is a preposterous statement. Swapping with Shindico isn't the only possible channel the city has for adding value to land. The Mulvey property had interested buyers. The city could sell the land and see the property tax roll go up as a result, and in a much more transparent way as well. It is very condescending of Downs to suggest, indirectly, that the city can't "make something out of the land" without handing over the land to Shindico.

Re. the Station 11 budget explosion
An initial 10,500-square-foot figure did not account for doors and corridors for personnel to move around ... The configuration had to be amended to satisfy concerns about traffic flow.
If this is true, then that adds a whole new layer of incompetence. Who's designing a fire hall without doors and hallways? Or if it was designed with doors and hallways, then who is estimating the cost of construction without them? His explanation still implies that somebody screwed up in a big way, and since Shindico was in charge of designing and building this thing that person is probably somebody within Shindico.

How do you account for the increase in square footage? Downs makes no reference to the proposed museum that Chief Douglas suggested was behind the size increase. Instead, the 3,500 sq ft. expansion is due to doors and corridors and dorm rooms. That's not believable.
"It was always our understanding, that whatever we agreed to was subject to council," he said. "So it wasn't being done behind closed doors."

Actually it was being done behind closed doors, but you were just leaving council to deal with the aftermath when the doors opened up and it was too late to change. Build first, check with council later.

Conclusion: I give this story by Shindico's Bob Downs two thumbs down. I find it to be unrealistic and contrived. A carefully crafted pile of crap. But that's just my opinion.

* Bart had reported that the Taylor land is assessed at $461,000. The city's assessment tool shows the plot of land at 1780 Taylor Ave assessed at $602,000 but the fire hall only takes up part of that parcel of land.

Still waiting for that special pot?:
Why yes I am, actually.... Is this where I get it?


Anonymous said...

The silly thing about the museum assertion is that there already IS a big firefighters museum on Maple Street.

The city is going to have competing fire museums ? I certainly haven't heard anything about the old one being closed. If it was, it would have been cheaper for the city to have plowed a couple of hundred thousand their way to keep the museum going that build a new one on Route 90.

cherenkov said...

I don't understand that either. Supposing there were a need for another museum, why not stick it in one of the surplus old fire halls? The whole idea is just insane.

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