A plan to build a 450-stall parkade to serve new Exchange District condos has stalled despite an offer of free provincial land and a $5-million city investment.
In 2011, the Winnipeg Parking Authority issued a call for private-sector developers interested in designing, building and financing a parkade on a provincially owned surface parking lot on James Avenue, east of the Centennial Concert Hall.
The lot is located close to new condo projects by the Streetside Development Corporation, Sunstone Resort Communities and other builders. Condo developers and arts organizations alike have been clamouring for years to increase parking capacity in the area, where a relatively fast-growing residential population competes with theatre audiences for parking stalls.
The province offered up the James Avenue surface lot, while the city offered $5 million, using a portion of the proceeds from the $23.6-million sale of the Winnipeg Square Parkade. A consortium involving Sunstone and Streetside parent company Qualico came forward with a plan to build a mixed-use development with a parkade, residential units and some form of commercial development on the site.
That plan is now off the table and the city is talking to other developers about building an East Exchange/Civic Centre parkade, Winnipeg chief operating officer Deepak Joshi confirmed Tuesday.
"Based on the size of the structure and the cost of construction, the costs became prohibitive," he said in a statement, adding Qualico and Sunstone "would not be proceeding with the proposed project."
The absence of parking has been cited as one of the factors in the slow sale of dozens of new condo units downtown. New condos repositioned as rental apartments -- such as those in the Penthouse on Princess Street and H20 on Waterfront Drive -- have little to no vacancy, thanks to Winnipeg's low rental-apartment vacancy rate.
One explanation is condo owners are more likely to own cars -- hence the continued drive to build a parkade, especially after the 2012 closure of the Civic Centre Parkade, which was connected by an underground tunnel to the Centennial Concert Hall.
The Winnipeg Parking Authority originally set aside $10 million to help build two downtown parkades. The first $5 million was devoted to the Longboat Development Corporation's Centrepointe hotel-office-residential project on the north side of Portage Avenue. That contribution took the form of a low-interest loan.
The city plan for the James Avenue parkade involved an equity investment of up to $5 million. "For whatever reason, it hasn't been as easy at that site as it was on Portage Avenue," said Sunstone vice-president and general manager Bill Coady.
"All we undertook to do was try to make something happen. Everyone wants it to happen," he said. "Nobody wants to see a parking lot there, chewing up land."
The city is now trying to see whether the province is still interested in the project. That might mean building a James Avenue parkade without a residential component, said Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan, council's downtown, heritage and riverbank chairman.
The province, however, is waiting to see a new proposal from the city -- and isn't likely to play ball without a residential component on its land.
"We would like to see a mixed-use development and apparently that includes housing," said Naline Rampersad, a spokeswoman for Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux.
The city originally promised residential property developers it would develop a parkade in the area in 2009. Four years later, several have grown frustrated.
"We need a parking structure down there," said Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck, who is also dismayed $5 million devoted to parking remains unspent. "Money sits on the books for years. Meanwhile, we have crumbling streets."
The provincial surface parking lot in question, slightly less than half a hectare in size, sits on James Avenue between Lily Street and Amy Street. It's part of a larger parcel of land that also includes the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's Tom Hendry Warehouse and a Manitoba Museum storage facility. The entire parcel -- including the theatre and museum building -- has an assessed value of $1.4 million.