An ambitious, long-term plan is in the works to redevelop land adjacent to historic St. Mary’s Cathedral into the next new megaproject for downtown Winnipeg.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg, which owns the property, is the developer behind the $105-million Building Faith, Building Hope project.
The initial plans call for construction of a 200-stall underground parkade, a 15-storey residential tower and a 12-storey office tower. The lower floors of the office tower will include some office and storefront space facing Carlton Street and a new banquet hall with a large patio overlooking St. Mary Avenue. There will also be a large atrium facing St. Mary and connecting the two towers.
James Buchok, the archdiocese’s director of communications, said Tuesday the project is still in the early stages and it will likely be two or three years before construction can get underway.
He said the archdiocese will be seeking feedback from parishioners over the next two months about what they’d like to see included in the development, so it’s likely some changes will be made to the original design. Financing and fundraising plans also have to be drawn up and finalized.
'The designs are there, the basic designs and the basic plan, but everything is just in the early stages' -- James Buchok
"The designs are there, the basic designs and the basic plan, but everything is just in the early stages," Buchok said.
Buchok said there has been talk on and off about redeveloping the church property since the 1970s, which includes the cathedral on the corner of St. Mary Avenue and Hargrave Street, a parish hall and surface parking lot on the north side of the church and another small building, a church yard and a second surface parking lot on the west side.
"There has always been talk about how we should do something with this, that there’s something more that could be done," he said.
"What else can be done for the downtown, and what else can be done to bring a bigger Catholic presence to the downtown."
But Buchok said this time, it’s more than just talk.
"With the True North development and all of that going on, it’s bringing a whole bunch of new attention to that particular area. I think many people are now saying, ‘OK, maybe now is the time to really start looking at what we can do in the long term."
Buchok said the archdiocese will likely be launching a capital campaign and various fundraising initiatives in the months ahead.
"There are always people who seem to come to the fore as benefactors," he said. "And people who believe in this kind of project will be approached."
It’s expected the project will be built in several phases, but it’s too soon to say how long it will take to complete or in what order it will be built. It’s also too early to say how many square feet of rentable office space there will be or how many apartments there will be in the residential tower or how big they will be.
"But these will be affordable housing, primarily for people connected to the church, most likely," Buchok added. "There might be some retired priests in there, some pensioners, perhaps, and the archbishop."
He said a variety of Catholic-related groups and organizations will likely be leasing the office and storefront space on the lower floors of the office tower.
"There a lot of them — service groups, health groups, social justice kind of groups," Buchok noted.
There will also likely be a downtown community outreach program, with a volunteer-run coffee shop and meeting place, that will operate out of the office tower. As well, the Catholic Centre staff and Office of the Archbishop, which are now housed in an office building the archdiocese owns at 1495 Pembina Hwy., will be relocated to the new office tower.
Buchok said the plan is to rent out the parish banquet hall for weddings and other functions, and the parkade will be available to the public during office hours and downtown evening events. Once the new tower is open, the Pembina Highway building will likely be sold and the revenue used to help finance the project, he added.
The CEO of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) said it sounds like the project will be an exciting new addition to the downtown.
"I think the fact it’s a mixed-use building... is really encouraging. It’s the type of development that we want downtown," Stefano Grande said in an interview.
He also noted downtown has traditionally served as a meeting place for religions of all types, "And here is a church that not only stayed and weathered the storm, but is back in a growth mode in a big, big way and reinventing itself."
He said another mixed-development also complements some of the other big downtown developments, including the $400-million True North Square office/residential/hotel/parkade development under construction immediately to the north and to the west of the cathedral property.