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Developer giving up on 110-year-old Sargent Avenue building after battle with city

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/3/2015 (731 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A West End developer is cashing out after a costly battle with the city over a sidewalk in front of one of his properties.

Sal Infantino said he’s going to file demolition papers and tear down his 110-year-old building at 543 Sargent Ave. after finding nothing but red-tape hurdles with the city over a sinking sidewalk.

Sal Infantino with the damaged Hood Block at 543 Sargent Ave. at Langside Street he owns that is set to be demolished. He also owns the neighbouring X-Cues Billiards and Cafe at 551 Sargent Ave.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sal Infantino with the damaged Hood Block at 543 Sargent Ave. at Langside Street he owns that is set to be demolished. He also owns the neighbouring X-Cues Billiards and Cafe at 551 Sargent Ave. Purchase Photo Print

"I have no choice but to battle this out in the public arena," a visibly upset Infantino told reporters Tuesday. "This isn’t easy for me."

The issues started on July 4 of last year, when the front sidewalk collapsed into the foundation of the building, essentially knocking the foundation back. That resulted in the front wall starting to come apart, rendering the structure unsafe until further structural work could be completed.

"A couple months after we lifted the sidewalk and looked underneath," Infantino explained. "We found a very large cavern, we’ll call it, and it starts right in the middle (of the sidewalk) where the storm drain collects from the street.

"That’s where the lowest part of the hole is. It runs about 50 feet in front of the building. When I showed (the city) the hole, they had absolutely nothing to say."

Infantino, owner of the neighbouring X-Cues Billiards and Café, purchased the building, better known as the Hood block, in 2009. Having first outlined a plan for a residential building, Infantino and the city came together to design a mixed-use facility – low-income and/or student apartments upstairs and retail development on the main floor.

Then came the sidewalk collapse in July. In November, the city issued an unsafe building order for the property, giving Infantino until February to have the building repaired or demolished. Infantino appealed, but the city’s standing policy committee on property and development denied his application.

After talking it over with his lawyer, a frustrated Infantino decided to scrap a second appeal and go ahead with the demolition. Barring an 11th-hour reprieve, demo crews are expected to arrive sometime this week.

The city originally blamed excessive rainfall that summer for causing the sidewalk to sink. In July 2014, a city spokeswoman told the Free Press that "large soil settlements occurred beneath the public sidewalk and below a section of the south foundation of the building, causing the public sidewalk and the front wall of the building to collapse."

Infantino says he’s no engineer, but is certain his renovation work had nothing to do with the sidewalk sinking into his building foundation.

"At this point, the city is not taking any responsibility - it’s all on me," he said. "I don’t understand how their sidewalk collapses into my building, and I get stuck with the whole bill."

Infantino said the best-case scenario for him would be for the city to help pick up some of the demolition costs and for them to work together on distinguishing who is responsible for what costs. He tossed around the word ‘bankruptcy’ a few times during his chat with reporters Tuesday, and indicated the entire ordeal will eventually cost him over $1-million.

Included in that price tag was the original purchase price, the cost of utilities to maintain the building, extensive renovation inside the building, the costs associated with ensuring the safety of the building as it stands now and the demotion costs - which will be add an additional $50,000 or so to his total bill.

Hood block dates back to 1904 and is considered to be the oldest building on Sargent Avenue.

Infantino said he contacted Daniel McIntyre councillor Cindy Gilroy and Mayor Brian Bowman about the issue, but his requests for help went unfulfilled or unanswered.

Infantino is not sure what he’ll do with the land once the building is torn down. He had big plans for the neighbourhood, and he thought that it could be yet another piece in an area turnaround. But now, after all the costs and headaches, it might just sit as an empty lot.

"I have no idea," he said. "I hoped to be able to do something. Right now, I just have to make sure I don’t go bankrupt. This is my life investment in this project."

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