CALGARY- After struggling for months over whether to allow Canada Olympic Park land to be turned into a large retail development, the city is now considering a dramatic and costly Plan C- buy the land. Council voted Monday to study a potential purchase of 19 hectares at the base of Paskapoo Slopes.It’s unclear how much the property would cost a valuation will be part of the study but city hall already has up to $60 million in loan guarantees tied up in other parts of the COP expansion venture. WinSport Canada had expected to repay those loan guarantees through selling land along the Trans Canada Highway to a retail developer after getting rezoning. That plan was up in the air, however, as city planners disagreed with WinSport on how to ensure some office developments would be part of that retail project, and when a future highway interchange would expand to meet that traffic demand. Buying the land would let the city sidestep that complex disagreement, but the city is unsure how to come up with the funds to do so. “The city had some of our top people on this file over the last couple of months, and this is what they came up with a way to move forward,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in council Monday. Council will likely vote on a potential purchase when the city presents its study in June. For several months, council has delayed a decision on a new master plan for the lands surrounding the site of the 1988 Winter Games’ ski jump, bobsled track and freestyle skiing hill. The less-controversial parts of the project include hotels, a film studio, and a large park with cross-country ski trails on the Paskapoo Slopes, south of the proposed retail land. Nenshi suggested that instead of big box retail on the site, it could become part of that park and ski-trail area. Conservation groups had also called on the city to block a move to flatten the lower slopes for large stores and their parking lots. Jim Younker, chief operating officer for WinSport and head of its rezoning application, could not be reached for comment. Ald. Dale Hodges said a letter from WinSport stated the group agrees that council should hold off any decisions until June. Although the market value of those 19 hectares of COP land is still to be determined, Younker had said previously that there was a gap of up to $20 million between the potential sale price of those parcels if WinSport’s plans were approved and the price if city planners’ alterations were approved. Under then-mayor Dave Bronconnier, council agreed in 2010 to give WinSport up to $60 million in loan guarantees to ensure the sports agency could build new ice arenas. The organization has only drawn down about two-thirds of that amount.
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