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Skyline-altering project will happen: developer

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A 42-storey skyscraper could be dominating the Winnipeg skyline by 2017 if an ambitious plan for a new $150-million-to-$200-million downtown development becomes a reality.

The chief executive of one of the two Ontario developers behind the office/retail/condominium development -- Fortress Real Developments Inc. and Mady Development Corp. -- told reporters at a noon-hour news conference Wednesday they've seen one artist's rendering of a 42-storey tower.

"It looked fantastic," Fortress president and CEO Jawad Rathore said, adding that's the kind of skyline-altering skyscraper they'd like to build.

"Our strategic goal is that this building will be architecturally striking, an iconic building that will be the largest free-standing structure between Toronto and Calgary," Mady CEO Charles Mady said to cheers and applause from a crowd of about 90 guests and dignitaries on hand for the announcement.

Market demand will dictate the size of the tower, they said. The more commercial space they lease and the more condos they sell, the bigger the tower.

Wednesday's news conference was held in a big, white tent erected on the Graham Avenue property where the new development is to be built. The site, which is on the north side of Graham between Smith and Garry streets, was once the home of the Winnipeg Tribune newspaper, but has been a surface parking lot for the last 30-plus years.

The developer's "vertical village" development, details of which were first reported in Wednesday's Free Press, could be up to half a million square feet in size. It's expected to include a multi-level underground parkade, up to 70,000 square feet of retail space on the first two floors, between 40,000 and 100,000 square feet of office space on the next few floors and 300 to 400 condominiums on the remaining floors.

Rathore said they hope to finalize the design plans and begin pre-selling the condos by the end of this year or early next year. The tower is expected to take 24 to 30 months to build.

They reiterated their intention to try to attract a large grocery store -- possibly one up to 25,000 square feet in size -- along with several restaurants, some clothing stores and maybe a financial institution as retail tenants. Mady said similar mixed-used developments his company has built in southern Ontario have Sobeys or another large grocer as an anchor tenant. He said talks are already underway with a number of grocers who might be interested in leasing space in the Winnipeg development.

Rathore said market demand will dictate how many condos are built. If they sell a lot of mid- to large-size units, it will likely be closer to 300. But if they sell more of the smaller units, it could be closer to 400.

Rathore said the condo offering will be designed to appeal to a broad cross-section of buyers -- everything from first-timers looking for smaller units priced at "well under $200,000" to well-heeled buyers looking for a spacious penthouse unit with luxury finishes.

He said while condos as small as 400 square feet have sold well in Toronto, something bigger -- at least 500 to 600 square feet -- might be more appropriate for Winnipeg.

The developers said in an interview Tuesday they need to pre-sell 40 to 50 per cent of the condos and pre-lease about the same percentage of retail and office space for the project to proceed. They said they're confident their targets can be reached.

"This project is definitely going to happen," were Mady's parting words to the crowd.

Bill Thiessen, a real estate agent with Re/Max Professional Realty, who has sold a lot of downtown condos, wondered later if there are enough buyers or renters for the roughly 1,000 new downtown condos and rental units that will be coming onto the market over the next few years.

"There's not a person that wouldn't wish them the best," Thiessen said. "But that's a very big number."

However, a growing number of Winnipeggers are embracing downtown living, he said.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2013 B4

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