By Trevor Suffield
Feb. 5, 2009
The recently announced federal budget contained good news for proponents of an inland port project to be located in northwest Winnipeg.
CentrePort, which is to be located near James Richardson International Airport, was one of the projects the federal government indicated it wants fast-tracked in last week's budget.
That is good news for the project, according to Kerry Hawkins, chairman of CentrePort Canada.
We were delighted, said Hawkins, adding last week's budget announcement was a vote of confidence for the project.
There were only two named projects in the budget release that I saw and, of course, CentrePort was one.
However, Hawkins indicated he has some concern that the budget didn't indicate exactly how much money Ottawa is willing to provide for the project.
There were no numbers attached, and so in fact what I've been doing since the announcement is trying to figure out what the funding is, Hawkins said.
Whatever it is it allows us to now proceed full speed ahead with the development of the airport and a couple of other things that have to be done.
A total of 20,000 acres of land has been reserved for the project at the airport. That means that CentrePort will need to make the area more accessible to truck and rail traffic.
As a result, Inkster Boulevard will have to be widened from Route 90 to the west and to Saskatchewan Avenue to the south.
Chris Lorenc, president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association, said other infrastructure improvements will be required for the project to proceed.
The other (improvement) is the enhancement of the Trans-Canada Highway west of the Perimeter, approximately a distance of six kilometers, so that we don't have that bizarre bottleneck coming into Winnipeg or leaving Winnipeg through Headingley, Lorenc said.
Lorenc added that the city is going to have to twin Inkster between Keewatin Street and Oak Point Highway in order to have a four-lane trade route.
Whether it's eastbound, southbound, westbound or northbound, there's a quick connection, he said of the upgrading.
Denis Fletcher, executive director of the St. James Biz, is excited at the possibilities that CentrePort could bring to area businesses.
It's been proven in other cities around the world that these free-trade zones are very important and Winnipeg is situated in absolutely the perfect place, said Fletcher.
He added that it would definitely have an impact on the businesses within their biz zone area, and that it has the support of everyone on the St. James Biz board.
I think it's absolutely critical that the project moves ahead, said Fletcher.
It's not a new idea, it's been around for a few years. In the past it seems to have just sort of died a natural death, but I don't think it will this time.
Realtor Allan Asplin said he doesn't expect the inland port project will have an immediate impact on real estate values in the surrounding area.
It really shouldn't affect property values at all, said Asplin, who works for the Judy Lindsay Team.
However, business property values surrounding the airport are difficult to speculate on, according to Asplin, who added that the area is already fully developed.
Anyone who is already established has their location set there, but it's a possibility that CentrePort could bring in new businesses, said Asplin, adding that the lack of available real estate could drive prices up.
Hawkins estimated that the cost of CentrePort could end up being as much $200 million.
CenterPort has started a search to hire a chief executive officer. The new CEO will be the corporation's first paid employee.
Hawkins said funding from Ottawa will determine how long the project takes to complete.
We don't know what we're going to look like when we grow up, but we know what we want to look like when we grow up, he said.