Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Neechi Commons to improve quality of life in North End

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After several years of unexpected construction delays and cost overruns, the Neechi Commons Community Business Complex on Main Street is almost ready to open its doors.

"We're sure of a January opening," project manager Russ Rothney said in an interview, adding Neechi Foods Co-op Ltd. officials are shooting for a "soft" opening in the first or second week of the month and a grand opening for late January or early February.

Rothney said the construction work is pretty well done. All that's needed now is final approval from the project's mechanical engineer and an occupancy permit from the city.

Rothney said the co-op expects to receive the occupancy permit this week. Then the newly hired management team can start hiring and training employees and making sure all of the equipment is working properly.

"We're just so excited to finally be able to focus on running the business and not on the construction," he added.

The Neechi Commons complex, which is located at the corner of Main and Euclid Avenue, will include a neighbourhood supermarket, a produce courtyard, a farmers market, a cafeteria-style restaurant, a bakery, an aboriginal art centre, a fish market and specialty boutiques.

Rothney said about 70 people, mostly younger and mostly from the surrounding neighbourhoods, will be employed at the complex. He said a job fair held in October attracted over 500 applicants, so they don't expect any difficulty filling the positions.

The project, which involved the redevelopment of two 100-plus-year-old buildings, ran into a number of unforeseen problems that contributed to the project delays and cost overruns. They included having to replace the entire brick facade on the Main Street side of the buildings, replacing a rear annex that had mould growing inside the walls and removing an old underground structure beneath the gravel parking lot.

Rothney said the project ended up costing about $8 million by the time they added in the extra carrying costs on their loans and the cost of upgrades to the old Neechi Co-op building on Dufferin Avenue. The co-op plans to continue operating a catering and wholesale food-services operation out of that building, as well as a small convenience store and lunch counter for neighbourhood residents who can't get to the new complex.

He said the final tab is at least $1.5 million higher than anticipated. Although the cost figure being bandied about in 2010 was $5 million, Rothney said later that didn't include the cost of acquiring the property and the equipment for the new complex.

About $5.5 million has already been raised for the project, including $2.3 million from the province, $1.3 million from the federal government, and $400,000 from co-op members.

Now the co-op is trying to raise an additional $2 million. It hopes to raise at least half of that through an ongoing public investment-share offering, and another $1 million in capital grants or donations from outside foundations, organizations and individuals.

Early last summer, the worker-owned co-op also asked the City of Winnipeg for an $850,000 tax-increment financing grant. The grant would be an advance on future property taxes that will flow from the redeveloped site.

"I'm pretty confident the city will come through with something," Rothney said. "But I have no idea what the exact amount will be."

A city spokesperson said the matter is expected to come before city council early in the new year.

Rothney said the co-op had sold $338,000 worth of Class A and B shares as of late Monday.

The Class A shares are priced at $100. Buyers are eligible to receive a 30 per cent provincial tax credit on purchases of up to $30,000, as well as a projected three per cent annual dividend after the second year and a projected five per cent dividend after five years.

The Class B shares are priced at $1,000 and are aimed at organizations and individuals who do not quality for the provincial tax credit. They offer to pay a projected annual dividend of five per cent beginning in the first year.

Rothney noted buyers of Class A shares who want to claim their tax credit for this year need to purchase their shares before the end of the month.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 21, 2012 B6

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