Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bold new plan for pumphouse

Multi-use highrise within existing building envisioned

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A consortium of local developers has unveiled an ambitious plan that would see a mixed-use, highrise tower -- the first in the Exchange District -- built inside the walls of one of the area's most historically significant and redevelopment-challenged buildings -- the James Avenue Pumping Station.

The proposal, unveiled at a public meeting Tuesday, would see the original brick structure and all original pumping equipment in the lower level retained.

Rising from near the centre of the building would be a slender, 24-storey steel-and-glass tower that could include a mix of public, retail and office space on the lower levels and rental apartments and penthouse condominiums above.

A spokesman for the developers said the public and retail space would be on the main and mezzanine levels of the existing building and on the main floor of the new building. It could include features such as an indoor-garden-style public gathering space, a restaurant/bar suspended above the lower level of the pumphouse, some smaller cafés or restaurants and some clothing stores.

Several local groups have expressed interest in including a "water-interpretive centre" and museum. The latter would explain the history of the building and some historic events in the area, including the 1919 general strike.

The consortium's spokesman, who didn't want his name published, said they're all local people who are withholding their names until they know if the project is a go. They hope to know sometime this fall.

He said the apartments would be a combination of one- and two-bedroom units ranging from 600 to 1,150 square feet. They would require what the spokesman said is the going rate for new rental units in the city -- $1,100 to $1,195 per month for a one-bedroom unit and $1,395 to $1,495 for a two-bedroom.

He said the group has discussed its plans with officials from the city, CentreVenture Development Corp., Heritage Winnipeg, local historical groups and local retailers.

"We wanted to get their input and see if they think we're moving in the right direction," he said, "and it's our understanding that they think we are moving in the right direction."

He said if there's opposition to the plan, it will likely be over the height of the new building.

He suspects some people, including some residents in the two neighbouring condominium developments -- The Sky and The Strand -- may argue it's incompatible with the area.

But the building needs to be that height to accommodate enough apartments to make the project economically feasible, he said.

"If we don't have the height, it won't be economical... and the show is over."

That's what torpedoed most other redevelopment proposals that have surfaced during the last decade in which CentreVenture has been trying to find a way to save the existing building and equipment, which has been described as a rare jewel from the city's industrial era.

CentreVenture currently owns the property, and the consortium's spokesman wouldn't say how much it will have to pay for property or how much the project is expected to cost.

CentreVenture president and CEO Ross McGowan said in a written statement the agency has been working closely with the new group for nearly a year.

"Their mixed-use proposal has merit and from our perspective. The redevelopment of the pumphouse has been a priority for CentreVenture for many years," he said.

"The removal of this blight amongst the private investment that has been made in the East Exchange and along Waterfront Drive, while preserving the historical elements, is essential. This development will provide additional residential density in this emerging neighborhood, benefiting the current residents and also provide another living option for people who are considering living downtown."

Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell said she also feels the proposal has merit and said she hopes it proceeds, especially in light of all the failed past proposals.

"Everybody wants really badly for this to work," she said, "and I think it's great they're getting feedback from the area residents and stakeholders."

Cecil Duncan, who lives in the neighbouring Sky condo development, attended Tuesday's open house and said he liked what he saw and heard.

"Any new development is good for the area residents," he said.

He said he has no concerns about the height of the proposed building. He conceded his condo faces the river, so the view wouldn't be obstructed by the new highrise.

"But I also think it'd be a good trade-off for more people and more activity coming to the area," he said.

Is the proposal to build a 20-plus-storey residential/ commercial building atop the James Avenue Pumping Station, while preserving the historic building, the best development for that site? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 7, 2013 B3


Updated on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 6:19 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

9:04 AM: Corrects spelling of café

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