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Chocolate factory among ideas for The Forks

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Willy Wonka may be coming to The Forks.

Forks North Portage Partnership CEO Jim August said a local party has expressed an interest in opening a chocolate factory at The Forks -- a thought that brings to mind the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

August said the talks are preliminary, so he wouldn't identify the party or go into any detail. But he said it's an intriguing idea because it would give people another reason to visit The Forks.

"You want something you wouldn't find at a (shopping) mall," he said. "It has to be a different experience."

Morden's of Winnipeg Candy Manufacturing Ltd. is the city's most well-known chocolate manufacturer. When asked Wednesday if his company is the one talking to the FNPP, owner Fred Morden paused and then said he had no comment.

August mentioned the chocolate factory in an interview following the FNPP's 2012 annual meeting, which was held Wednesday at the Children's Museum at The Forks. He said a chocolate factory was one of several new ideas being bandied about during discussions about what might be included in a long-talked-about mixed-use development for the north end of The Fork's site.

Some of the other new ideas include a daycare and some type of fitness/recreational facility, August said.

He told the annual meeting the FNPP has resumed discussions with City of Winnipeg officials about a proposed mixed-use development on several surface parking lots in the area, including the city-owned Parcel Four lot on the southwest corner of Waterfront Drive and William Stephenson Way.

An Alberta company's controversial proposal to build a hotel, parkade and water park on that site was effectively killed last April by city council, putting the lot back into play.

FNPP officials would like to include that parcel of land in a mixed-use development that has been under discussion for more than four years.

August said city officials appear to be receptive but there are still a lot of details that need to be worked out, including funding and the type of development that would be included in the project.

Potential elements that have been talked about in the past include a large parkade that would provide parking for both The Forks and the nearby Canadian Museum for Human Rights, some type of housing component, office and retail space, and a one-kilometre-long, European-style promenade featuring green space, sitting areas and water fountains.

The promenade would stretch from William Stephenson Way to The Forks Market and tie into the museum property.

August said the development would have to be a good fit for both The Forks and the museum.

He said he hopes a decision on how and when to proceed can be made in 2013. "The economics (of it) are very challenging, so it's going to take some time."

August also told the meeting a tentative deal has been struck to sell the former Downtowner Hotel at the corner of Kennedy Street and Ellice Avenue.

The FNPP purchased the hotel in 2008 on behalf of Hostelling International Manitoba, which converted it into a hostel and pub (the Lo Pub). But the money-losing hostel closed last August, taking the pub down with it.

August wouldn't reveal the name of the prospective buyer, other than to say it is a local group that plans to redevelop the building. He also wouldn't say what the group plans to do with the building. "(But) a lot of it is focused on youth," he added.

The group was one of four that submitted offers for the property. August said the deal is expected to close by mid-December, and further details will be released at that time.


Forks benefits from Jets

THE return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg helped turn last year into another profitable one for the organization that manages The Forks.

The Forks North Portage Partnership (FNPP) has reported $885,000 in net income for the fiscal year that ended last March 31.

CEO Jim August told the non-profit organization's 2012 annual meeting on Wednesday the partnership took in revenue of just under $11.1 million and expenses of $10.2 million.

Nearly half of the revenue -- $5.2 million -- came from its parking operations at The Forks and Portage Place. And August said its underground parkade at the Portage Place Shopping Centre saw a significant boost in revenue on days when the Winnipeg Jets played at the nearby MTS Centre.

The FNPP's financial records show parking revenue was up about $400,000 from the previous fiscal year, and chief financial officer Paul Webster said "a big portion of it would be (because of) the Jets."

The FNPP's second biggest revenue generator was its land-lease operations, which contributed another $1.3 million.


-- staff

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 1, 2012 B5

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