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Cash for inner-city campuses

$27.5M part of Tories' economic stimulus plan

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WINNIPEG — Higher education in Winnipeg and inner-city revitalization will both see an upside from the downturn as Ottawa plans to spend $27.5 million on a pair of downtown campus expansions as part of the Conservative government's $7-billion economic-stimulus plan.

Within the space of 90 minutes Wednesday morning, $18 million was announced for the University of Winnipeg's new science college on Portage Avenue and $9.5 million toward a Red River College makeover of Main Street's Union Bank Tower.

The Portage Avenue announcement allows the U of W to continue to expand its campus in the Spence neighbourhood, where it is also completing a new student residence. The Main Street pledge will allow Red River College to proceed with a heritage renovation that's being hailed as a big step toward the establishment of the Exchange District as a residential neighbourhood.

The University of Winnipeg has been planning to build a $59-million science complex since 2006, when Winnipeg's James Richardson and Sons, the Richardson family and its foundation pledged $3.5 million toward what's officially known as the Richardson College for the Environment.

"This is one of the most important investments at the University of Winnipeg in generations," U of W president Lloyd Axworthy said. "It will enable the U of W to have a world-class science complex that will be unsurpassed anywhere in the country. We've taken a major step in reshaping our city this morning."

Red River College, meanwhile, has spent the past year trying to assemble $27 million to move its culinary and hospitality programs from its King Edward campus to the Union Bank Tower, a 104-year-old heritage building regarded as western Canada's oldest skyscraper. Vacant since 1992, the tower at Main Street and William Avenue will be renovated to house classrooms and the college's Prairie Lights restaurant on its bottom three floors, which will include new annexes on the south and west of the heritage structure. Upper levels will be converted into student housing as part of a deliberate effort to create more affordable housing on the edge of Old Market Square.

"I think this will go down as one of the greatest days in the history of the Exchange District, in terms of the tipping point toward it becoming a vibrant residential district," said Ross McGowan, president and CEO of downtown development agency CentreVenture, which is contributing $2 million toward the Red River College project.

The provincial government has pledged $4.5 million toward the tower renovation, while Winnipeg's Paterson GlobalFoods will donate $2 million. Company CEO Andrew Paterson, a Red River College graduate, has agreed to spearhead a capital campaign to raise the remaining $8 million required to complete the project.

College president Jeff Zabudsky said funders came on board because the Union Bank Tower project accomplishes three goals: heritage preservation, the creation of modern and more spacious digs for the overcrowded culinary school and the creation of affordable housing in a neighbourhood increasingly typified by expensive condominiums.

"What we're doing here is creating vibrancy and life -- not just during the day, but 24/7," Zabudsky said. "I've seen the impact the downtown presence has meant for Red River College. I can't tell you how excited I am about being able to leverage what we're doing on Princess Street and continue the downtown growth."

The Union Bank Tower's current owner, Pace-Greentree Builders, has agreed to donate the building to the college in exchange for a tax receipt equal to the structure's assessed value, said company president Guy Hobman. The structure might also qualify for federal heritage tax credits that officially expired in 2008. That money will be included as part of the $8 million that still needs to be raised, Zabudsky said. Construction on both the Union Bank Tower and Richardson College will begin this year. A total of $159 million will be spent on post-secondary institutions in Manitoba over two years, Conservative MPs Vic Toews, Gary Goodyear and Shelly Glover said Wednesday.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 21, 2009 A3

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