Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Albert waits for city's OK

Owner blames inspectors for continuing closure

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Four years after the Royal Albert Arms was purchased by an Internet-pharmacy entrepreneur, the revitalization of the iconic heritage building has suffered a series of setbacks.

The 98-year-old Exchange District structure, home to one of Winnipeg's most celebrated live music venues as well as a restaurant space, has been closed since the Victoria Day weekend due to a water-line break.

The building's owner, Daren Jorgenson, is engaged in a dispute with the city over responsibility for the service disruption. Hotel tenant Deseo Bistro, an acclaimed restaurant that helped rejuvenate the Albert streetscape, appears to have decamped to a new location on Osborne Street.

Jorgenson is pledging to reopen within two weeks -- provided city inspectors approve repairs to the hotel's water supply and sprinkler system.

"It's up to the water and waste people," said Jorgenson, who purchased the Albert in 2007 and pledged to convert the heritage property into a boutique hotel.

The city said the original break occurred in the Albert's fire-service line on May 21. City crews helped control the leak, but left responsibility for repairs to the hotel because the break was located on private property.

Jorgenson disputes this account, claiming the city broke a valve on an abandoned pipe. Within days, he brought in water from a neighbouring building under what he described as the blessing of city fire and health inspectors.

Deseo Bistro briefly reopened, but was shut again on May 29 by a city health inspector who found no hot water on the premises, city spokeswoman Michelle Bailey said in a statement.

Water service to the Royal Albert Arms will not be restored until the hotel completes repairs to its water service and an inspector signs off on the work, Bailey said.

Jorgenson said he could have reopened in early June, had water and waste officials approved his initial work.

"They held everything up and overrode the fire department and the health inspectors," he said. "Those (people) at the city drive me crazy."

Meanwhile, Deseo Bistro proprietors Alejandro Mora and Scott Bagshaw used Twitter on Tuesday to proclaim they have assumed control of the former Champa Bistro space in Fort Rouge.

"It's official. We got keys to our new location today. 696 Osborne St.," their post said. "We can't wait to feed you!! Two levels. Our own washrooms!"

Deseo Bistro patrons at the Royal Albert Arms used restrooms attached to the hotel's beverage room.

Mora and Bagshaw did not respond to requests for comment. Jorgenson said he is hopeful they will remain Albert tenants, once the building reopens.

"We're not selling it and we're not keeping it closed," Jorgenson said of the hotel, a fixture of Winnipeg's music scene. "And we're not changing it."

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 7, 2011 B2

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