Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Our Little Italy going upscale

Developer involved in 13 condo projects

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Drawing of condo units planned for 275 Hugo St.

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Drawing of condo units planned for 275 Hugo St.

Ernie Walter wants to see the Little Italy neighbourhood around Corydon Avenue turn into Winnipeg's version of Toronto's Yorkville, Edmonton's Whyte Avenue or Calgary's Kensington Village.

The architect/developer is involved in no fewer than 13 infill condo projects representing about 125 luxury condos in a neighbourhood that has the classic features of a mature urban residential setting and has also witnessed the evolution of a bustling restaurant and nightlife component.

Walter and his son, Yaron, his partner at Studio Walter/Walter International, have a vision of creating a "signature" neighbourhood in the city.

"Little Italy is a place where you can walk to work, walk safely at night, visit friends on the avenue," Ernie Walter said.

"What does it mean to the city to have a signature (neighbourhood)? It means a lot. It brings Winnipeg into the league of other cities."

Walter's concept is like a dream for the Corydon Avenue Business Improvement Zone, of which he is a board member.

Craig Kitching, the board president, said it doesn't matter to them who the developers of these kinds of compact infill condos are. The important thing is they help regenerate the neighbourhood.

"We want to see the neighbourhood stay vibrant and alive," Kitching said. "As to who does the project, it's really not our concern."

The neighbourhood stewards do care about preventing the area from falling apart and making sure properties that become decrepit are updated, something that has not necessarily happened in some Winnipeg neighbourhoods.

"When we see an initiative to keep the neighbourhood vibrant and evolving, as opposed to deteriorating so that homes are only worth the value of the land they're on, we feel that is a positive sign and we want to encourage an environment where we evolve and continue to grow rather than deteriorate," Kitching said.

The 13 projects Walter has on the go or in the works are tear-down jobs to be rebuilt from the ground up.

It's a risky venture building luxury condos at prices as high as $700,000-plus in a fairly immature condo market where homeowners have the mindset that single-family houses are affordable for all.

It's also an expensive proposition. Walter has dipped into the recent wave of wealthier immigrants to help raise the millions of dollars it's taken to acquire the properties he's developing.

So far, Walter says there is solid demand for the properties from across the demographic spectrum.

"The young two-degree families want to be here," he said. "And we have two people coming out of a Tuxedo bungalow. They want two storeys, a garage attached, a front yard that's maintenance-free and the ability to turn the keys over in September and head south."

The series of projects, branded ALTRO off Corydon, come in a variety of configurations from one-level main-floor units with private yards to luxury multilevel units with rooftop patios.

Though they are clearly not for everyone -- there is some opposition to gentrification of what has been an affordable neighbourhood -- the projects can provide a lower operating cost for condo owners, with a condo fee as little as $125 a month and almost a co-op attitude when it comes to property maintenance.

Kitching believes this style of housing development in the area is not such a radical idea.

"The irony is the neighborhood was very edgy at its inception," he said. "There was state-of-the-art housing back in the day. People may say they don't like this or that (about the Walter designs), but in a way, it's just bringing back what was here, maintaining the status quo with creative modern housing."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 10, 2013 B6

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