City council approves $10-million guarantee for 900-unit housing project


When speaking before 400 real estate agents and brokers during the WinnipegREALTORS® trade and technology show, Mayor Sam Katz stressed that the city needed more infill housing.
At the Victoria Inn last week, Katz said that the CN Fort Rouge Yards project would deliver 900 units of much needed housing and small-scale commercial space while broadening the city’s tax base, and that’s why he favoured the $10-million loan guarantee to Gem Equities.
City council last Wednesday morning agreed with the mayor and approved the loan guarantee for the condominium and townhouse project. Only councillors Mike Pagtikhan and Russ Wyatt opposed the motion.
“It’s a great project,” Katz told the agents and brokers, adding that government has a role to play when there’s “a void that has to be filled ... but (city hall) shouldn’t get involved when the private sector can do it alone.”
In the case of Gem Equities, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) was willing to provide $14.7 million in loans and grants, if the city agreed to the loan guarantee. 
The project is expected to cost $79 million.
The guarantee was promoted by Jenny Gerbasi, the councillor for the area, who said the city had done its homework before giving its approval.
Critics of the project alleged Gem Equities owner. Andrew Marquess, had a history of not paying creditors and suppliers and owed the city property taxes. Some area residents opposed the project because of its overall size and the potential it posed to create traffic problems in the area.
If the developer defaults , Katz said the city will still come out ahead, as it will then have an asset in the Lord Robert’s neighbourhood valued at substantial more than the loan guarantee.
Zoning for the Fort Rouge Yards was changed in December 2010 to Residential Mixed Use (RMU), which allows for residential development and supporting small-scale commercial, institutional and service facilities.
According to the OurWinnipeg website about the development, it will “include a wide range of ecologically sensitive features such as district-wide geothermal heating, low-flow water fixtures ‘Green’ building products, an energy-efficient building envelop, storm water management and green roofs.”
The high-density development will also include transit/town plazas, as well as parks and other greenspace.
Gem Equities plans to subdivide the site into six lots to accommodate 452 townhouses and two high-rise towers.
The former industrial 16-acre site is bordered by Berwick Field on the south, the South West Rapid Transit Corridor on the west, Argue Street on the east and proceeds north to just past Berwick Place.