Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/5/2019 (383 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
"It keeps the momentum going for the downtown. … This shows there are people interested in investing their money, that they see value in our downtown. These things can piggyback off one another, so I think we’re one step forward toward making revitalization a reality."
— Coun. Kris Desjarlais (Rosser)
Nearly 14 years ago, the City of Brandon and members of the public endured a raucous theatre of the bizarre over an issue that divided councillors and the public. The issue — whether a not-for-profit organization should get a municipal tax break to put a 12-unit housing project in the downtown neighbourhood — eventually went forward, but not before considerable agitation, debate, and anger.
At the time, Brandon’s downtown had long since begun its slow decline and our local elected officials were in a huff trying to determine whether to support the construction of low-cost housing in the city or not. As former Sun editorial page editor Curtis Brown wrote: "anyone who has followed the on-again, off-again debate about affordable housing in our city knows that some very, very deep lines have been drawn at city hall about whether or not the city has any business supporting housing projects."
Ultimately, with a 7-2 decision, the council under then-mayor Dave Burgess voted in favour of giving Uturn the property at 1280 Rosser Ave. for $1 and five years of tax-offsetting grants.
All of this is, of course, a whole lot of water under the bridge. But when considering the recent sale of land at 1201 Pacific Ave. earlier this month, it’s perhaps worth a reminder of past arguments in this city. For at the heart of that particular argument was a not-for-profit. Oh, for those halcyon days of advantageous prudence.
We can’t really blame Coun. Desjarlais for his enthusiasm over the new project coming to Pacific Avenue. As we reported, downtown Brandon is set to get a new "indoor adventure park" at that location. City council voted to sell a section of the property to Bowerbird Holdings — a Robyn Sneath company — during a closed-door meeting on April 15.
Sneath and her husband are certainly business-minded individuals, and good on them for coming to the fore with another proposal for improving our downtown. But we do have a little concern here that our elected council is undervaluing city properties, even as it looks for any means to end downtown stagnation.
The proposal by Bowerbird Holdings won out over another proposal for the site, which was from JWJ Enterprises Ltd/Little Brother Brewing Co. to build a brewery on the site. While that’s fine, it seems odd to us that council would have let the land go for a song. The land was sold for $21,000 — far less than the $207,000 the portion of the property was assessed at. The whole property was listed by the City of Brandon as being worth $545,400, but the proposal would have it subdivided, with the remainder under city control.
As Coun. Glen Parker (Riverview) — who made an unsuccessful motion to kill the sale — stated, this action by council sets "a tough precedent." City councillors take the oath to be good stewards of public properties. In our opinion, the sale of public land at such a devaluation is dubious at the best of times.
Oddly enough, during the same meeting in which the sale of 1201 Pacific Ave. was voted upon, council also decided to sell the property at 1501 Patricia Ave. at appraised value, plus GST.
Taxpayers have a right to expect that everyone is treated fairly. Council has a duty to explain why it would take the Sneath offer rather than what may well have been a more lucrative offer. Details of the other bid have not been released to the public.
Are we that desperate to see something built downtown that we’re willing to virtually give land away? Perhaps, as a city, we are.
Bear in mind a large portion of downtown Brandon has remained an empty lot for the better part of a decade. Yes, Brandon University now owns the former Strand Theatre property in a bid to create a new downtown campus. But that development is still in the planning stage.
It’s worth pointing out that BU purchased the Strand — before it was demolished — for $1 from Landmark Cinemas. So too the former footprint of the ramshackle Brandon Inn, which cost more than $1 million to tear down, between asbestos removal and the demolition contract. It was also sold to Brandon University for $1, as was the nearby lot at 129 11th St.
Still, giving a break to a publicly funded post-secondary institution feels a bit better than doing the same with a privately held company.
Downtown land doesn’t seem to be highly valued right now. Is our city hall selling itself short? Or is this the new low, low price of doing business downtown?