Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Waterfront set for leap forward

Latest projects could lure more retailers, foot traffic

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WATERFRONT Drive is gearing up for the its biggest building boom since the first wave of condominium construction began in 2005.

Five construction projects are expected to get underway this year along the picturesque street, which winds along the east side of the Red River in the city's East Exchange District.

The previously announced projects include a hotel/restaurant development, three condo developments, and an apartment complex.

A spokesman for one of the existing condo developments on the street -- The Excelsior -- said the five new projects could create that all-important critical mass of people that is needed to lure more retailers to the area.

Sherwood Developments president Fausto Pereira said Sunstone Boutique Hotels' hotel/restaurant development and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which is now under construction at the south end of Waterfront, should help draw more pedestrian traffic. And the condo and apartment projects will add more year-round residents.

"There are all kinds of positive things that seem to be coming together at the same time and I think it bodes well for the whole area and the East Exchange."

Pereira said it's been a real struggle finding tenants for the 11,000 square feet of commercial space in the Excelsior development. Only about 2,000 square feet have been leased after four years of trying.

But he senses the tide may soon be turning.

"People are seeing all this new development going on and they're calling to see what our (rental) rates are. They may not be ready to commit yet... but people are interested. And that's a good sign."

A spokesman for the Sky Waterfront Condominiums complex on Waterfront -- Sunstone Resort Communities -- is also seeing evidence of that. Vice-president Bill Coady said two of the three commercial units in Phase I of its Sky development have sold since the beginning of the year.

Although neither of the new tenants are retail operations -- one is an insurance firm and the other is an architectural firm -- Coady also thinks the spate of new developments could spark more interest among local retailers.

He said what's needed is a high-profile retail development to get the ball rolling, and Sunstone officials hope their hotel/restaurant project will be that catalyst.

Sunstone's hotel arm -- Sunstone Boutique Hotels -- plans to build a contemporary-looking, three-storey, 67-room boutique hotel on what is now a gravel parking lot, and a new casual-dining restaurant in the one-storey brick former Harbourmaster's building.

The plans also call for construction of a public plaza area at the south end of the property which will include an outdoor picnic and seating area, games tables, an outdoor fireplace and fire pit, a river-viewing deck, and front and back pedestrian walkways which will link up with existing pathways on either side of the property.

The details of the $11-million project, which still needs to city council approval, were reported in Wednesday's Free Press and were formerly unveiled to the public at an open house held later in the day at The Forks.

Coady said construction is expected to get underway this fall or early winter.

Sunstone also expects to break ground this summer on Phase II of its Sky Waterfront Condominiums development, which is located directly across the street from the Alexander Docks property.

That four-storey building will add another 33 condos to the 109 included in Phase I, which is nearly sold out.

As an incentive to buyers, Sunstone is using some of the money it will receive under the city-provincial downtown residential tax incentive program to offer $10,000 grants to Phase II condo buyers.

The other two condo projects scheduled to get underway this year are Phase II of Green Seed Development Corp.'s You Cube complex at the corner of Waterfront and Heaton Avenue, and an 86-unit complex M2 Engineering is building at the corner of Waterfront and George Avenue.

Green Seed president Mark Penner is also the co-developer for the fifth Waterfront-area project -- a $5-million to $6-million, 35- to 40-unit apartment complex that he and Winnipeg businessman James Buhler are building immediately behind the You Cube development.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2011 B4

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