A strategic land parcel that was a hotel site is now up for sale at the junction of the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 10 North, offering strategic development opportunities.
On the face of it, a red and white For Sale sign on the site of a now demolished hotel, where Highway 10 North meets the Trans-Canada Highway, seems innocuous.
However it’s possible that site could become the subject of a bidding war because of its strategic location, land speculators, and the land’s suitability for a hotel and casino development.
The now vacant site at 125 Middleton Ave. E. sits on the northeast corner of Westman’s busiest intersection and has an estimated 10 million vehicles passing through it every year, Brandon city manager Scott Hildebrand said, and there’s another trump card that site will have in the future. If Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation fully implements its plan to reroute Highway 10 North as well as First and 18th streets to build overpasses at the Trans-Canada Highway, this land will be on the northwest corner of the junction. It will be the first property in Brandon after the overpass for westbound traffic on the Trans-Canada, as well as the first property inside Brandon’s main city limits for southbound traffic travelling on Highway 10 from Minnedosa and Brandon’s airport.
If city officials have described the North Brandon Gateway area, between First and 18th streets, as one of the most strategic land parcels to be developed inside city limits, this site likely rises to the top of the heap as a prime commercial development opportunity.
"It’s a great corner and the opportunities are probably endless there," Hildebrand said.
Some land speculation related to a potential casino was already underway. The Rolling River, Waywayseecappo and Keeseekoowenin First Nations teamed up to buy land between the Brandon’s northern boundary and the Brandon Municipal Airport in 2009. They purchased the land through an Erickson-area-based numbered company for $4 million, according to documents obtained through the Manitoba Land Titles office, with a casino development of their own in mind, said Brent Wilson a band councillor for the Rolling River First Nation. However the casino plans fell off the rails about three years ago, when the provincial government and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs took away the gaming licence from them.
Instead, the Swan Lake First Nation obtained a site-specific gaming licence to build the $40-million Spirit Sands Casino south of Carberry, on Swan Lake’s land on Highway 5. While the Winnipeg Free Press reported the provincial government secured a Spirit Sands Casino Resort Inc., $1 million loan to a third-party lender earlier this year, the facility, scheduled to open in 2012, has not been constructed. That opened the door for Brandon city officials to partner with the Tribal Councils Investment Group as they develop a business case to bring a casino to the city. Promised talks between the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Brandon group have not yet taken place. Wilson wasn’t sure if that also opened the door for the Rolling River, Keeseekoowenin and Waywayseecappo partnership to get back into the mix for a casino.
"We’ve talked about it, but we really haven’t confirmed our intentions," Wilson said.
While that situation evolves, Wilson said the plans to develop their land in the RM of Elton west of Highway 10 North remain in play. It’s just that the plan is complicated because of an easement that runs in the middle of the property where the City of Brandon’s water and sewer lines for the airport lie and it would take an estimated $5 million to move the infrastructure to the edge of the property.
"We have to work with the City of Brandon and we are trying to work with them to adjust that and have that infrastructure removed," Wilson said. "We are still hoping to have a deal with Brandon (for water and sewer service. If not, we’ll set up our own plant. We initially tried to work with the RM of Elton, but they don’t have the capacity to satisfy our needs."
Given its proximity to the land already owned by the company, it’s not hard to see why the First Nations communities would want the Middleton Avenue East land, as it is near land it already owns. Whether the City of Brandon plans to buy the land itself is not clear.
"We have committed that we are exploring all the options and the idea," Hildebrand said. "We have committed that we are exploring all the options and the ideas. The City of Brandon is not in the position to jump on that one, not in these financial times. Although that piece of land would be a great opportunity and has great value, the City of Brandon, given its financial limitations for 2013, we’re just not in a position where we would ever move forward, given that we are still in that exploration stage for a casino."
It’s not yet known why the land in question is for sale, as messages left with Imperial Oil and the broker, Cushman Wakefield, were not returned. According to documents obtained through the Manitoba Land Titles office, the property is owned by Devon Estates Limited, a subsidiary of Imperial Oil that’s based at the same downtown Calgary address as the well-known oil company. The property was registered on March 20, 2009 as having a sworn value of $400,000. Since that time, the hotel on that site has been demolished and the city’s assessed value for the property is $46,000.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 27, 2012