CentrePort Canada’s long-standing goal of creating an inland port with an integrated system of road, air and rail transportation is about to become a reality.
Focus Equities, a Victorian developer with experience in complex industrial developments, has been appointed developer of CentrePort Rail Park, a unique 665-acre development that will connect heavy rail-dependent industries to the CP Mainline in the north-west part of the city.
Industries needing 50 to 100 acres are already lined up to be part of the project which is expected to generate $2 billion to $3 billion in development dollars alone and nearly 5,000 new jobs for the province when the complex is built on the next 10 to 20 years.
The site is located on the south side of the CP Carberry Subdivision with CentrePort Canada Way to the east and Four Mile Road/Selkirk Avenue to the south.
It is about fulfilling CentrePort’s mandate to attract industries requiring access to multi-modal transportation services.
The launch of the rail fleet comes at a time when the North American distribution and logistics industries are decentralizing and industries are looking for shovel-ready sites to develop, which Winnipeg is lacking.
Ken Mariash, owner and CEO of Focus, said the province has accelerated the sale of the first 200 acres so construction of the site’s sewage service can begin this summer.
The province is selling to Focus the land it has held in trust for this project since its acquisition from CP during the construction of CentrePort Canada Way in 2009-2010. Sources said the sale price for the land was higher than what the province originally paid.
“This development — in the heart of the country — will support our vision of making Manitoba a true national and international trade gateway,” said Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson. “The rail fleet project will help us strengthen our economy and attract new businesses, now and in the future.”
Although it is on undeveloped land, Mariash said there is less infrastructure work needed compared to other major projects he has been involved in.
“I call it a gift-wrapped project,” Mariash said in an interview with the Free press. “This one already has infrastructure that we would normally have to build ourselves like freeway interchanges. It’s like we’ve died and gone to heaven. I commend the province for investing in the infrastructure that’s already there. .”
He also praised the work that CentrePort has done in marketing and promoting development in the region.
Mariash is a big proponent of heavy media marketing and branding of her projects. His 50-year-old company has been involved in the development, purchase or sale of millions of square feet of commercial industrial land and thousands of apartments and condominiums, including projects on a similar scale to the CentrePort rail park in Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria. . It is currently engaged in the development of over US$5 billion of projects in North America.
As of 2016, much of the 20,000-acre Inner Harbor land in the Rural Municipality of Rosser – where the rail park will also be located – now has water and wastewater services and industrial development in the area has increased considerably since then. (The City of Winnipeg committed $20 million to serve the south end of CentrePort in this year’s budget and many expect federal and provincial financial support to come.)
Focus responded to a request for proposals launched in 2018, and has therefore been actively working on design and presales on the site for a few years already. The industrial park will be subdivided for industries requiring large land.
Martin McGarry of Cushman & Wakefield Stevenson, the rail park listing agent, said there were interested parties ready to acquire land in the development.
“It’s very, very difficult to align interest when you’re trying to put infrastructure in place,” he said. “The fact that we already have pre-sales further strengthens the future success of this park.”
Diane Gray, CEO of Centreport, has worked for several years to bring the project to this stage.
“It’s a complicated opportunity,” she said. “It’s not an 80-acre industrial park. It’s a significant amount of land and we needed a developer to see that bigger vision and who has the patience and the financial backing to be able to see it through. a project that could span the next 10 to 20 years.”
It could fill up much faster, but industry officials say economic momentum will be a factor in how quickly it expands.
Mariash said the type of “tenants” who would buy land under the project could include world-class distribution operations, chemical and fertilizer companies and value-added manufacturing companies. He said he spoke to lithium processors and players in the electric battery supply chain.
“Users like that have a high demand for rail because it’s heavy,” he said.
The location of the site, along almost three kilometers of the CP rail line, may be unique in Canada and possibly even in North America.
“It doesn’t exist anywhere else. If you wanted to build a 100,000 square foot facility with rail access, good luck,” said McGarry, who was also active as a Centreport developer and broker for several years. “Finding ready-to-use rail serviced land is almost impossible. This is a dedicated park with its own in-house rail operator with access to all three class 1 rail carriers.”
Although it is connected to the CP line, there are also interchange possibilities to connect to the CN and BNSF lines.
While the general thesis of business attraction to the rail fleet is no different from what proponents of economic development have been talking about for years – a central location in North America, a stable and well educated, cheap hydro – Mariash and others say the early interest shown by potential tenants is an indication that these benefits are finally being recognized.
Focus posted a video of Mariash talking about Winnipeg and referencing, among other things, the 1919 General Strike as something that had a lasting negative impact on the city’s economic development.
“Winnipeg is a great place, but it’s not well known,” he said. “It’s a big deal in the industry. It will just take a bit of promotion.”
After completing a massive industrial development in a similar area of Edmonton, Mariash said Winnipeg is becoming more attractive now that Alberta has become a more mature development market “without that gold rush activity chasing the oil in Alberta”.
“I think all of Winnipeg’s merits, manufacturing, shipping and receiving…all of those things will become much more of a factor in this new logistics environment,” he said.
Dayna Spiring, CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, said the launch of rail fleet development is a signal of more to come in the city.
“It will be a very powerful tool in our economic development toolkit,” she said. “People talk about wanting to relocate the supply chain because we all realize that depending on Asia and other places doesn’t always work.”
Large-scale industries need very specific land to grow and Winnipeg simply did not have the kind of serviced land that many of them needed. Spiring said its sales team had been successful in attracting businesses to Winnipeg, but there was no land to accommodate them.
“Success breeds success in development,” McGarry said. “It takes a long, long time to build momentum. I’ve talked about Winnipeg advantages for most of my career, but it’s only resonated in recent years.”
Spiring said she feels great the city is ready for post-pandemic growth.
“Sometimes it takes an investment, a nudge or something material for us to take a step back,” she said. “Winnipeg is well positioned to emerge strong from the pandemic.”
Martin Cash has written a column and business news for the Free Press since 1989. During those years he wrote through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) of the fortunes of many local businesses .
Read the full biography