City council gave a non-profit group the green light to demolish one of Winnipeg’s oldest downtown buildings even though it has no immediate plans to replace it with a seniors complex.
In 2010, the Chinatown Development Corp. sought permission to demolish the Coronation Block, an 140-year-old building which once served as a temporary city hall and housed the Shanghai Restaurant on the main floor since the 1940s. The non-profit wanted to operate a surface parking lot on the site and eventually turn it into an assisted-living seniors complex.
The city did not want a surface parking lot on the site and refused to allow the building to be demolished without a formal plan to build the seniors residence.
That changed on Wednesday, when the majority of council voted to give the Chinatown Development Corp. a permit to demolish the structure and maintain the site as a vacant, landscaped lot.
Mayor Sam Katz said the group plans to make the site a much-needed park as they continue discussing funding for the seniors complex with various levels of government. He said the area is in need of more green space, and the non-profit group plans to include decorative fencing or bollards to prevent cars from parking on the site.
Katz and other members of council said it currently costs the non-profit group between $35,00 and $40,000 a year to maintain the property.
"Old doesn’t necessarily mean good. From my point of view right now, spending $40,000 a year for a building that cannot be converted, and to turn it into housing down the road is extremely positive," Katz said following Wednesday’s council meeting. "In the meantime it will be a passive park in an area that probably needs green space more than most in the city of Winnipeg."
Council voted 13-3 to approve the plan. Couns. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge), Ross Eadie (Mynarski) and Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) voted against it.
Heritage Winnipeg’s Cindy Tugwell urged council not to grant the demolition permit until the corporation comes forward with a redevelopment plan. She said it sends the wrong message to developers, noting it took years and the right building owner to redevelop heritage sites such as the Avenue building or Kelly House.
"It is extremely historic," Tugwell said. "It is one of the oldest buildings in the downtown."
On the floor of council, Gerbasi said the city should stick to its 2010 decision not to allow the block to be demolished before there is a formal plan for the site. She said the economy or finances could change, and the city should not take out a building until a solid plan is ready to go.
"Some of us had a thread of hope that if for some reason the project doesn’t happen, maybe there would be a way to save the building," Gerbasi said after the council vote, noting it’s unfortunate heritage was pitted against housing. "Now that’s been lost."