Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

60 days to fix up St. Charles Hotel

City tired of frequent delays; may seize historic property

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TIME may finally be up for the owner of the St. Charles Hotel.

After four years of continued delays in redeveloping the 100-year-old property, a city committee has given immigration lawyer Ken Zaifman 60 days to bring the building up to code. If he doesn't, the City of Winnipeg will move to take possession of the hotel.

Zaifman has been working to redevelop the site into a boutique hotel since 2008. On Monday, Zaifman asked council's downtown development committee for a three-month extension to comply with a city order to install a sprinkler system to protect the building from fire.

The building does not have water or a working sprinkler system, and the city initially ordered Zaifman to decommission the existing system and install a new one in January 2012. City officials worry without adequate fire protection, the hotel could quickly go up in flames, suffering the same fate as the adjacent Albert Street Business Block, which burned down last year.

Zaifman initially said that fire would mean the development proposal for an expanded St. Charles Hotel would proceed more quickly.

However, Zaifman said Monday he has yet to install a new sprinkler system, since it will cost between $130,000 and $150,000, and he will have to rip it out when the building is renovated. He said architects are working on design plans of an expanded hotel project beyond the scope of what was originally envisioned.

Council's downtown development committee voted unanimously to uphold the order against the property, which means Zaifman will have 60 days to comply before the city issues a derelict-building certificate and starts the legal process to take title of the building.

Downtown development chairman Coun. Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) said he's skeptical about whether Zaifman genuinely plans to follow through with the redevelopment. He said he hopes Zaifman will fix the problem or recognize there are other investors who may be interested in doing something with the old hotel.

"It's gone on for so long. It's insanity to put this at risk any longer," said Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, a member of the committee. "It's a pretty drastic step to take someone's property without compensation and it's not something that can be done lightly."

Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell said the committee's decision was long overdue, and the building owner was given numerous opportunities to comply with city bylaws and ensure the historic property is protected.

She said it becomes more difficult and costly to renovate heritage buildings the longer they sit vacant, and hopes the city can use this example to speed up its actions against derelict-building owners in the future.

"This is about getting that building back, vibrant and part of the community again and opening up Albert Street because it's a dead zone right now," Tugwell said.

CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan said the agency is ready to step in to redevelop the site if the city takes possession of the hotel, and already has a high-level plan for Albert Street. He said a number of groups have approached the agency about the property, though they have been unable to proceed since the hotel was privately owned.

"Having vacant and derelict property as the main entrance into your Exchange District is quite discouraging for other private investment," he said.

Zaifman said he is just as frustrated by the project as city officials. He said the building's interior has been gutted and there's little combustible material that could catch fire inside. Zaifman said he hopes to have the design plans ready soon.

"I haven't given up," he said.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Other items on the agenda at city hall on Tuesday:

Heritage designation: Council's downtown development committee voted in favour of a plan to designate St. Boniface Cathedral as a heritage building. A recent city report said the site should receive a Grade 1 status -- which means it will be protected in perpetuity -- due to the building's architectural and historical significance, connection to Winnipeg's francophone community and iconic status locally and nationally.

Transportation authority: A city report recommends Winnipeg investigate how an arm's-length transportation authority could be funded. Winnipeg's 2009 capital budget allocated $1.25 million to explore the concept. The report said the success of any such body depends on dedicated funding, and recommends Winnipeg first review ways to pay for it. Council's public works committee will consider the report Friday.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2013 B2

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