Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Condos on the river

Unique housing proposed for former CN Rail bridge

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IN one of the most unique housing proposals ever in Winnipeg, an architect plans to build a condominium complex on an old railway bridge over the Assiniboine River.

"There'll be nothing else like this anywhere in the world," said Alex Katz, a partner in the firm Stechesen Katz.

Katz has already bought the bridge, which is located just east of the St. James Bridge and is part of CN Rail's abandoned Oak Point line.

Katz said city officials have expressed support for the project, although several regulatory requirements, such as zoning, could take a year to complete.

He plans to build 20 to 24 condos on the bridge, ranging in size from 800 square feet to 2,000 square feet or larger. The units would probably sell for $200,000 and up, but the project's costs have not been fully tabulated.

In addition to the bridge, Katz also purchased the rail line's property between Academy Road and the bridge for a possible second phase of the development.

He wouldn't divulge the sale price, except to say the bridge was more of a liability to the railway than an asset.

The project is a bit of a family affair, with Katz's firm providing architectural services, while his wife, Beatrice Zentner, provides development expertise through her firm, Vice Versa Developments. Their son, Lev Zentner, is looking after financing and marketing.

Katz said he and his wife will take one of the condos, while their son will take another.

The bridge is six metres wide, but it used to be 12 metres when streetcars operated on the structure.

Katz said he will expand the width to the original 12 metres and enclose the steel girders in the project.

Instead of the old wooden posts and beams featured in heritage renovations, each condo will include portions of an historic railway bridge, rivets and all.

"There'll be real drama on the inside," Katz said, commenting on the unique interior design that will feature 4.6-metre-high ceilings.

"I love the gutsiness of the structure."

Parking will be suspended beneath the bridge on both sides of the river, with a staircase and elevator leading up to the condos, he said.

Access will be off Wellington Crescent on the south side of the river and Wolseley Avenue on the north.

A staircase will lead to a dock on the river for those who want a canoe or small boat.

Fibre optics and other utilities will run beneath the bridge, while wells will be dug on the riverbanks to cool and heat the homes using the latest in energy-efficient technology, he said.

Katz said he considered using the river current to generate power, but Manitoba Hydro told him it wouldn't work.

As far as he and other architects interviewed yesterday know, this would be the only example of housing on a bridge in the world.

Katz's firm is one of 30 architectural firms selected to develop a design for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights following an international competition.

'Just ecstatic'

They are working in full partnership with two other companies, Sturgess Architects of Calgary and the IBI Group of Vancouver.

"They contacted us and asked us to get involved," Katz said. "We're just ecstatic about it."

Phase 2 of Katz's condo project involves developing a mixed-use development on the portion of the rail line between Academy Road and the bridge.

He said early plans call for a living-and-working development, with commercial space on the main floor and housing on the second floor.

The federal government is responsible for fisheries on provincial waterways, but Katz said he's been told his project poses no problem, since the river will be completely unaffected.

The province regulates the river bed, but Katz said he has no need to dig into the river bottom, so no problems are anticipated.

The city, which controls the riverbanks, will be required to pass a bylaw allowing the parking structures to be built, but here, too, Katz doesn't anticipate a problem.

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service has expressed concerns about safety, an issue Katz says should be easy to overcome.

"We're as pumped as you can get," he said. "We feel we have a really creative idea that will appeal to lots of people.

"And we don't see a downside. If there is, no one's told us about it."

dave.o'brien@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 23, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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