A local carpenter-turned-developer is spending more than three-quarters of a million dollars to refurbish a vacant, century-old apartment block on Furby Street.
Although Chris Welham has more than 20 years of experience in the construction and residential-renovations business, the top-to-bottom refurbishing of the three-storey walk-up at 432 Furby is the first large-scale reno his five-year-old numbered company has tackled on its own.
Welham said in an interview he's enjoying the experience so much he plans to make from-the-ground-up renovation projects his full-time focus.
In fact, he's already negotiating to buy an old warehouse in Wolseley and convert it into apartments. Although that 100,000-square-foot building is nearly 10 times bigger than the one he's working on now, that doesn't seem to worry him. He said he relishes the challenge.
He said the Furby project also has been challenging because of the age of the building, the fact it had been vacant for about three years and because of Furby Street's past reputation as a bit of a rough area.
What gave him the confidence to proceed were some of the big developments the University of Winnipeg has been undertaking in the area, including its $30-million science complex and the McFeetors Hall student residence and university daycare centre.
Both are located within a block of his building.
"Just seeing that they're backing the neighbourhood and believe in it makes a huge difference," Welham said.
The executive director of the West End Business Improvement Zone said it's made a huge difference to the entire West End renewal effort, which has been underway for more than five years. "We're definitely in an upward, positive, revitalization mode, and it's largely because of the university expanding to the west," Gloria Cardwell-Hoeppner said.
"Everywhere you look in the West End there are students. They're living, working and studying here, and are very much a part of the community."
She said new businesses are also moving into the neighbourhood, property values are escalating, run-down houses are being renovated and developers are breathing new life into old apartment buildings like the one on Furby and a three-storey block at 582 Agnes that was converted into affordable condominiums.
Welham's apartment units will be specifically targeted at U of W students. He said he talked to U of W housing officials and they assured him there is a need for more student housing in the area.
Sherri Pchajek, the university's manager of campus living for housing, said in an interview Welham's 15 units will be a welcome addition to the area.
"The vacancy rate is 0.6 per cent, so his units are going to get snapped up quickly."
She said she's also impressed with Welham, whose daughter attends the U of W's high school, and what he's doing with the building.
"He's not doing this on the cheap. I get the sense from talking to him that it's a real labour of love for him. He's very invested, and I love to see developers who are personally involved in what they're doing. They're not just in it to make a buck."
She said the location is also ideal for U of W students because it's close to Portage Avenue and a four-minute walk from the main campus.
Welham said he bought the building from another construction company that bought it a few years ago, started to renovate, and then stopped.
He said the city was threatening to seize the property, so the company sold it to him.
"It was quite a mess when I bought it. But it's a solid building."
He said that's one of the things he loves about Winnipeg.
"There are just tons of these old character buildings just waiting for someone to pick them up and do something with them."
He said his firm has renovated a number of duplexes and other small, multi-family complexes, and more than 20 single-family homes. It also built a 26-unit condominium complex last year in Gimli. He said one of the reasons he's comfortable with taking on bigger renovation projects is because, with more than 15 years' experience as a site manager with his own firm and other construction companies, he can act as his own general contractor.
He estimated that shaved 35 to 40 per cent off the cost of the Furby Street project.
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No small undertaking
HERE are some more details about the renovation project at 432 Furby St.:
-- The brick structure was built in 1910.
-- Developer Chris Welham took possession of the building last December and is spending about $850,000 on a top-to-bottom renovation.
-- The work includes gutting the interior down to the bare studs, installing new insulation, electrical wiring, plumbing lines, drywall, flooring and windows. The kitchens and bathrooms are also being redone, the steam-heating system is being replaced with electric baseboard heaters and a new security system will be installed.
-- A new vestibule also will be added to the front of the building and an enclosed fire escape will be built onto the back.
-- Work got underway in January and is to be completed by late summer.
-- The apartments will include one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Monthly rents will be $700 for a one-bedroom, $800 for a two-bedroom, and $900 for a three-bedroom suite.
-- Source: Chris Welham