Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dry St. Regis spawns fewer emerg calls

City agency closed bar at end of January

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Closing the bar at the St. Regis has meant far fewer sirens and flashing lights at the century-old downtown hotel.

When CentreVenture took over ownership of the downtown St. Regis Hotel at the end of January, the municipal agency closed the notorious lounge and bar. Since then, emergency calls have declined dramatically.

City officials said Thursday that with the bar open in January, Winnipeg Emergency Services responded to 25 calls for service. In February, with the hotel dry, there were only six calls.

The city did not immediately have figures available for emergency calls to other downtown hotels.

The St. Regis has operated as a hotel on Smith Street south of Portage Avenue for 101 years in what is now the Sports Hospitality and Entertainment District of Winnipeg.

Rob Sanker, general manager at the St. Regis Hotel, said the province also uses the hotel to house long-term medical patients from distant reserves.

He said when the bar and lounge were closed, 15 employees were laid off.

Sanker has seen the difference around his hotel since the bar and lounge closed, but said the lowered statistics are misleading.

"There are a lot of underlying social issues coming with those crime stats," said Sanker. "Everyone wants to blame it on the bar (over-serving), but that was the furthest thing from the truth."

Sanker said people hanging around the front of his hotel often weren't even customers of the hotel.

"The people who are standing out there gravitate towards the hotel whether they're intoxicated, whether they have drug addictions or they're sick," said Sanker. "They always end up coming to the St. Regis Hotel because they know we're going to help them in some way. Or they have friends or family staying at the hotel... it's amazing the amount of people we have to call the ambulance for."

Sanker also said February is a slow month in the hotel industry, but in comparison to last year when there were 26 calls for service, the worst month in 2012, the numbers don't lie.

Stefano Grande, executive director of Downtown Winnipeg Biz, said it's no surprise the problem has been eliminated from the St. Regis since the closing of the bar, but the problem has just gone elsewhere.

"We're not naive; we recognize that that issue has not gone away," said Grande. "It's important that we understand that. We have to address the bigger picture, which is the social challenges with that community that seems to have issues related to poverty and mental health and addictions."

The Biz has been monitoring calls for service, but has not seen the issue move to a specific location in the city.

Sanker said the St. Regis isn't the only business dealing with a less-than-stellar reputation, but with CentreVenture, things have picked up for the hotel. Sanker hints there are big things happening for the Winnipeg landmark.

"We've had meetings with CentreVenture and they aren't really sure what they are going to do with the property," said Sanker. "It's been a hotel for the past 101 years -- we've got the infrastructure for it, we're able to renovate this hotel again, and I think there is room for another in the downtown Winnipeg area."

steph.crosier@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2013 B10

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