Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New structure to be king of downtown?

Project head promises big splash

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A massive new mixed-use development on the site of the old Winnipeg Tribune building on Graham Avenue is in the works and the word is it will be something the likes of which has never been seen in Winnipeg.

Without being specific on too many details, Jawad Rathore, CEO of Fortress Real Developments Inc., the Toronto-based developer behind the project, spoke enthusiastically about a development that would include as many as 200 condos, a substantial retail and restaurant component and an office tower.

Rathore said there will be a major announcement in Winnipeg near the end of May. He said none of the details has been finalized, including whether there would be one or two towers, but he did not deny the possibility the office tower could become the tallest building in the city.

"We think we have the opportunity here to do something pretty incredible for the city of Winnipeg," Rathore said. "Because of that, we have one shot to do it right. We want to be really methodical about everything we do."

There has been plenty of talk about the project for some time and sources in the real estate development business vouch for Fortress's credentials.

The company has been involved in similar projects, including co-development of a project in Barrie, Ont., with about 80 condos and 170,000 square feet of commercial and retail.

Rathore said their Winnipeg project will be much bigger than that.

"We want to do something iconic, and this is not just the usual marketing hype," he said. "We're getting ready to yank back the curtains and let people in on some details."

The general idea is for a virtually self-contained miniature community in the heart of downtown. He said in their pre-marketing efforts, people told them there are three main features they want to see as part of such a project -- a grocery store, a safe and secure property and quality amenities.

"The Jets effect has been huge in downtown Winnipeg," Rathore said. "But if people are living downtown, they want access to amenities. They don't want to live downtown and then go do everything they want to do elsewhere. People have said they want to see everything literally at their front door."

Rathore said he would not confirm the site of the development, at least partly because the deal to purchase the land is not scheduled to close until later in the summer.

But sources said it is the old Tribune site on the north side of Graham Avenue between Smith Street and Garry Street, currently a surface-parking-lot property of which Sabino Tummillo and John Garcea are listed as directors.

Rathore said, "When people see where the location is, believe me, they won't have to worry about safety and security."

It is right across the road from the former Canada Post building, which is undergoing conversion into the Winnipeg Police Service's new headquarters.

Although it would be Fortress's first project in Winnipeg, Rathore comes by his enthusiasm for the market honestly. His in-laws live in Steinbach and he has been visiting the city for a few years.

He spoke glowingly about the support and encouragement he's been getting from the city and CentreVenture, the downtown development agency that recently acquired the St. Regis Hotel on Smith Street and shut down the facility's beverage and VLT lounge to help curb public intoxication in the area.

Ross McGowan, CEO of CentreVenture, said he's met often with Fortress people, who he says have a solid track record, about various aspects of the project, including their eligibility for downtown residential grants.

"I think this will be complementary to other downtown developments in the works," said McGowan.

As excited as Rathore is about the project, there are clearly many things that have to fall into place before he breaks ground. Bankers will need to see some pre-sale of condos and pre-leasing of office and commercial space before any financing is finalized. Rathore said while there have been many conversations with potential tenants in several different sectors, there are no commitments in place.

But the vision is definitely grand. Rathore is talking about the office tower becoming a prestige locale -- "the most desirable address in the city" -- and condos with "premium finishes and top-quality design at a price people will find compelling."

And as for restaurants, he said they will "approach the right, top-shelf, four-star tenant that will bring the right tenant out."

He said, "We're looking for a great concept, a fun patio that will create the right vibe and buzz and not just on the streetscape, but with available terracing as well. We're having all those conversations."

While the Fortress project has been in the works for about a year now, they may now be in a race with other commercial downtown developments to break ground. In March, the Longboat Development Corp. and Artis Real Estate Investment Trust said they were working on an ambitious mixed-use project on the Cityplace parking lot on the south side of Graham Avenue between Carlton and Hargrave streets.

There is also talk of a highrise development again in the works for the property on Main Street immediately north of the building formerly known as the Canwest Tower.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca -- with files from Murray McNeill

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 1, 2013 B4

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Updated on Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 10:02 AM CDT: changes headline

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