Will the New PSB Please Step Forward

The New Mega Public Safety Building 

This is the first in a series of articles examining the re-location of police headquarters from 151 Princess Street to 266 Graham Avenue.  This series will take a  look at the expressed operational rationale behind the move and the related costs. 

The Question:  Which building will the Winnipeg Police Service be moving into when they vacate the Public Safety Building?   

A)  The Winnipeg Post Office office tower at 266 Graham,    

                                                    OR

B)  The Winnipeg Mail Processing Plant, (WMPP) illustrated in the photo below?

The Answer:  B, the Mail Prosessing Plant

There is a lot of buzz in Winnipeg these days, especially in the police community, about what has been dubbed as the new ‘Mega PSB’.  The $135 million plan recently approved by council will see police moving out of its current headquarters, the Public Safety Building at 151 Princess Street, by 2013. 

Which space are they actually moving into?  If your impression is that it will be the office tower facing Graham Avenue, featured on the City of Winnipeg website as the new headquaters, then you have the wrong impression.  In this case what you see is not what you get.  * (See web link below)  You can’t be blamed entirely, though.  The mayor and the city spin doctors (another example of your tax dollars at work) have done a nice job of spinning this one.   

The portion of the property that the police are actually getting is the old Winnipeg Mail Processing Plant – the dumpy, or shall we say, squat, four-storey structure at the south end of the property and not the impressive office tower that has been so prominently featured in the media.  (Of course, once you put that brand spanking-new shooting range on top, it might not look so squat.)  The public seems to have concluded, almost unanimously, that the police were moving into the office tower.  But even with the best spin it is difficult to fool all of the people all of the time. 

In fairness the report prepared for Council when carefully read implies that the police won’t be getting the office tower.   As is so often the case, interpretation becomes important and the devil is truly in the details. **  In this instance, the ‘details’ reveal that  the portion of the property being redeveloped is limited to the Winnipeg Mail Processing Plant and does not include the office tower which served as the backdrop for the ‘turning over the key/early Christmas present ceremony’ orchestrated by the City.  The office tower portion of the property, it turns out, is tied up in existing leases and options and will not likely be available for police use for the next 15 years

The current plan calls for the city to develop approximately half a million square feet of space for police use at a cost of $135 million:  $30 million to purchase the building and another $105 million to do the upgrades.  There are some important unanswered questions hanging in the air.  Anyone who has restored an old building, or watched This Old House knows that when you revive old buildings they can become money pits. Does buying and restoring a 55 year old building to replace a 45 year old building (PSB), the interior of which has been recently and extensively upgraded, make good sense from a practical business perspective?   Were other options considered?  Can this project be brought in on budget or is there a risk that this project will become a public money pit with Winnipeg taxpayers footing bill? 

Frankly, a more thorough examination of the monetary and non-monetary reasons put forward by the Police Service and the Property and Development Department in support of this proposal is needed.  Is the space being redeveloped adequate to house all Divisions, Units, and services being proposed for relocation to the site?  Is relocation of units such as the Professional Standards Unit within the confines of a police station appropriate?  Are the operational advantages and savings cited in the report real or are they empty words used to prop up the proposal and make it easier for decision makers to arrive at the ‘right’ decision?   

Those issues and questions as well as others will be examined in future posts.

In the meantime, a quick memo to Sponsor Winnipeg:  Now that the City owns the building at 266 Graham, best to put it on the naming block, and consider removing the Winnipeg Square Parkade in light of the fact that the City has already paid someone $400,000 in commissions to sell that particular property.

* Image of Post Office Tower from the City of Winnipeg website at:

http://winnipeg.ca/interhom/headquarters.stm

** Complete report on the City acquisition of the property at 266 Graham Avenue is available at:

http://winnipeg.ca/clkdmis/ViewDoc.asp?DocId=9721&SectionId=&InitUrl=

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