Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CentreVenture buys hotel to curb drinking

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A downtown hotel where two men have been killed in alcohol-fuelled beatings since 2009 is slated to become a dry facility as part of a push to curb excessive intoxication and improve safety around Portage Avenue.

On Thursday, downtown development agency CentreVenture announced it has purchased the St. Regis Hotel and will shut the facility's beverage and VLT lounge when it takes possession of the property in January. CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan said the purchase price will be disclosed in January, and the agency has also acquired the hotel's adjacent surface parking lots in the 200 block of Smith Street.

McGowan said the move is part of the agency's broader plan to redevelop Portage Avenue and the 11-block Sports Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED). He said more than $1 billion will be invested in downtown Winnipeg through projects such as the conversion of the Avenue Building and the restoration of the Metropolitan Theatre, and the agency wants to protect that investment.

McGowan said the SHED district and Portage Avenue are often associated with panhandling and aggressive behaviour due to excessive alcohol consumption. He said CentreVenture plans to lease the St. Regis Hotel back to the current operators as a dry facility.

"We don't want any alcohol in there," he said. "We want the difficulties that go on outside of that place to be removed."

During the past three years, the hotel has been the site of two alcohol-fuelled homicides. In May 2011, a 29-year-old man suffered extensive head trauma and died after he was beaten during a party in a hotel suite.

In October 2009, a 60-year-old man died from his injuries after he was beaten while socializing in a room in the hotel.

McGowan said CentreVenture has been working on the deal for 18 months alongside the city, province and Winnipeg police. The St. Regis Hotel was targeted by the development agency because it's the largest hotel closest to the SHED district, he said. The hotel, which typically houses many visitors in the city for long-term medical care, will continue operate, McGowan said.

CentreVenture may issue a request for proposals on the surface parking lots sometime in the next year, he said.

McGowan declined to comment on whether the agency plans to buy other hotels in and around the SHED district. He said CentreVenture is not trying to become a social-services agency, but the move may lead to broader discussions about poverty and homelessness in the downtown.

"I think people are very encouraged by the progress that's being made, but we still hear the same old, 'It's not safe, it's uncomfortable, and I'm tired of being harassed,' " McGowan said, referring to panhandling and aggressive behaviour. "That's still a mantra we continue to hear."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 16, 2012 B1

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