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A serving of food for the soul

Former restaurant soon to become church campus

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They'll soon be offering up a different kind of comfort food in the Exchange District building that was once home to the former Mirlycourtois Restaurant.

Food for the soul, rather than food for the stomach, will be the main item on the menu when the long-vacant, two-storey building at 188 Princess St. officially reopens late next month or in early June as the new downtown campus for Eastview Community Church.

Campus pastor Dave Ens said the ground floor of the 8,600-square-foot building, which at one time also housed a credit union, will be used for things like meetings, classes and counselling sessions.

And the second-floor restaurant space, where Mirlycourtois served French cuisine until 2009, will be used as a gathering place for church members and area residents.

"The space that's upstairs has a great atmosphere that lends itself to conversation and relationship building," Ens said. "It will be kind of a safe place to hang out, drink coffee... and talk."

Because all of the restaurant equipment is still there, he said the church may also offer up some light food or snacks.

The building, which had been owned by Winnipeg businessman Frank Melanson, had been vacant since Mirlycourtois closed. One commercial real estate industry official said one of the reasons it took awhile to sell the building, next door to Red River College's downtown campus, was because it didn't have any on-site parking spaces.

Ens said the church wanted to establish a downtown campus because its main campus on DeVries Avenue in East St. Paul is hard to get to unless you have a vehicle. And many of the church members who live in the inner city don't own vehicles.

"This is about accessibility for us. This is a highly accessible location."

Although Eastview will operate the campus, the building is owned by the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, of which Eastview is a member.

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It likely will be a few more months before the City of Winnipeg decides what role it will play in the development of a new $35-million parkade/apartment complex in the East Exchange District.

City officials confirmed earlier this month that the city has accepted a proposal from two local developers -- Sunstone Group and Qualico Group -- who want to build a mixed-use complex on James Avenue that will feature office or retail space and 450 to 500 parking stalls on the first five floors, and 100 one- and two-bedroom rental apartments above.

But the chairman of the city's downtown development committee said last week the city has yet to decide whether it wants to buy a $5-million equity stake in the development or give Sunstone and Qualico a low-interest, repayable loan for the same amount.

Coun. Justin Swandel said the city opted to lend the same amount to another developer -- Longboat Development Corp. -- which is building a similar-size parkade on Hargrave Street as part of its $75-million 311 Portage Ave. at Centrepoint hotel/office/parkade development.

But each case has to be decided on its own merits, he said, and negotiations are still ongoing with the developers and the provincial government, which owns the surface parking lot between Lily and Amy streets on which the block-long complex will be built.

"The big hang-up was over the piece of land," Swandel said, "but I think we've got that sorted out and we're moving ahead."

He declined to reveal how that issue was resolved, but said they hope to complete a deal "within the next couple of months."

Swandel said the parkade is needed to provide parking spaces for tenants in a number of new residential and commercial developments in the area, including six warehouse-conversion projects by Qualico.

-- -- --

Another residential development could be in the works for the north end of Princess Street.

The president and CEO of CentreVenture Development Corp. said the city-owned agency is negotiating with several local parties who have expressed an interest in redeveloping a CentreVenture-owned piece of vacant land on the southeast corner of Logan Avenue and Princess.

The site, where a collection of century-old buildings was demolished late last year, is across the street from the $12.7-million Peace Tower affordable housing project.

Ross McGowan said the developers CentreVenture is talking to are also interested in doing a residential project on the vacant lot. He declined to say what kind of residential project or to name the parties. "I'm hopeful (a deal can be struck)," he said, although it will likely be six months to a year before any shovels are in the ground.


Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail, or industrial real estate sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 697-7254.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2012 B4

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