A Winnipeg theatre is about to lift the curtain on a $24-million plan to redevelop one of Winnipeg's trendiest corners and add dozens of units of affordable housing to Osborne Village.
The Gas Station Arts Centre hopes to tear down its existing theatre and build an eight-storey complex that would include two or three new commercial units fronting on Osborne Street, a new 300-seat theatre and six storeys of apartments, some earmarked for artists.
"We think River and Osborne is one of Winnipeg's extraordinary corners, and we want this development to be incredible," said Geof Langen, president of the Gas Station board.
Design concepts are preliminary -- the Gas Station is hosting an open house Sunday to consult residents. The new complex would likely be largely glass and take up nearly the entire parcel of land, including much of the courtyard in front of the theatre and the Subway sandwich shop. Commercial space about three times the size of the Subway would run along Osborne, and the theatre entry, with a new courtyard, would likely remain on River Avenue. The theatre's "crush space," where patrons gather before taking their seats, would take up the building's entire second floor overlooking Osborne so motorists and pedestrians could see people mingling at intermission.
Six floors of residential space would house about 80 units, many with terraces and patios. Some units could be two-storey, but most would be between 600 and 800 square feet.
Langen said the idea is for all units, or nearly all, to meet the province's affordability guidelines, which means some provincial grants and subsidies might be available to offset construction costs. Langen said the Gas Station is more interested in the idea of a co-op ownership model or rental units rather than condos.
Some units would likely be earmarked for artists and could include access to summertime studio space on the roof or some live-work units. The Gas Station plans to partner with the Performing Arts Lodge, which helps set up affordable housing for artists nearing the end of their careers.
The Gas Station has talked about a major renovation or redevelopment for years. Lately, the increasing cost of maintaining the old building, part of which used to be an Esso gas station, have made the matter more pressing. Renovating the existing building would likely have proved as expensive as rebuilding, and creating a mixed-use space will give the theatre ongoing revenue that improves long-term financial stability, executive director Nick Kowalchuk said.
The GSAC hopes to triple its commercial income. Part of the planning for the new centre includes a $6-million capital fundraising campaign that could tap local donors, federal infrastructure funds and arts grants.
A decade ago, financial woes nearly sunk the Gas Station, which was almost turned into a Giant Tiger store. The neighbourhood and Winnipeg's arts community revolted and the theatre was revived.
Osborne Village can be a tricky place in which to build. New projects, even ones that increase neighbourhood density, often spark outrage. The recent redevelopment of the Shoppers Drug Mart was particularly divisive, and small condo projects in the neighbourhood have resulted in battles at city hall. The Gas Station says it has already consulted dozens of key players in the area, including the Osborne Village BIZ, which said Friday it fully supports the project.
Langen and Kowalchuk said their group is open to new ideas for the project and the elements aren't set in stone. But it must be financially viable and offer the Gas Station a reliable revenue source in the future.
The Gas Station has enlisted the help of Lakeview Realty, which will develop and manage the residential and commercial component, and has hired Winnipeg architect Steve Cohlmeyer to design the building. The details of the various partnerships and funding arrangements need to be finalized, but the Gas Station intends to retain controlling ownership of the property.
Lakeview's Wayne Bollman hopes work can begin on the site next fall after the Gas Station's 2014-15 season wraps up. Construction could take 18 to 20 months.