Winnipeg sent Amazon packing when e-commerce giant wanted to build facility, says mayoral candidate

Online retail giant Amazon wanted to build a facility in Winnipeg, employing some 2,000 people, but was turned down by city administrators — and councillors were never told about it, says mayoral candidate Kevin Klein.

An organization representing the company approached the city earlier this year to discuss construction on the city’s eastern edge, in the Transcona neighbourhood, Klein said.

As part of the proposal, he said Amazon requested an underpass be built at Dugald Road and Ravenhurst Street. The city’s administration declined, according to Klein, who said he learned about the proposal through development community insiders.

A second proposal was then made with Amazon offering to cover the cost of the underpass if the city issued funding through tax-increment financing — a mechanism that uses future tax revenue to stimulate development — over several years to cover some of the cost.

“Again, the city saw no value in the opportunity and declined,” Klein said.

He was not aware if the facility was to be a warehouse, distribution centre or a cloud-computing server hub.

As a result of the city’s snub, the facility is being built along CentrePort Canada Way, located in northwest Winnipeg but in an area that is within the Rural Municipality of Rosser, Klein said.

“We lose not only, you know, the opportunity to talk about the fact that we brought Amazon to Winnipeg and … that we’re rejuvenating our economy at a time when we need it the most, but we’re also losing 50 or 100 years of property taxes that would come from such a facility and that really bothers me,” he said

Council kept in the dark

And then there’s the fact that elected city councillors didn’t hear a whisper of the proposal, said Klein, who is on the city’s standing policy committee for property, planning and development.

“The whole Amazon issue is very, very, very disappointing. What’s more disappointing and more concerning, as somebody who sits on the committee for those kinds of opportunities and arrangements and deals, not being informed tells me we have a serious problem within the City of Winnipeg,” he said.

Two spokespeople with the City of Winnipeg, when asked about their response to Klein’s allegation the city dropped the ball on the project, replied with similar email responses.

“Generally speaking, along with Economic Development Winnipeg, the public service will participate in confidential discussions with businesses and stakeholders about their proprietary operations and interest in Winnipeg. The mayor and members of council are not part of those confidential discussions,” one email stated.

“As part of those discussions, multiple considerations would be discussed, and all efforts would be made to reach an agreement that benefits Winnipeg taxpayers, contributes to the economic growth of the city, and meets the needs of the proponents,” the other email added.

Neither spokesperson would confirm or deny an Amazon proposal, saying they could not speak to specifics.

CBC News has contacted Amazon about Klein’s claims and is awaiting a response.

Klein said he is aware that certain significant negotiations are confidential, but he believes elected officials should have been brought into the circle.

“We can go in-camera behind closed doors. We go into camera all the time to have discussions about proposals, RFPs or decisions that were made in courts, or to get legal opinions. We do it on a regular basis,” he said.

“But we never did it for such a big opportunity and it concerns me. Something of this magnitude, out of just pure respect for every part of the city and every elected official, you should have sat them down and had a discussion.

“I think there would have been a different result.”