For the past 17 years, the Union Bank Tower at the corner of Main Street and William Avenue sat vacant because the cost of renovating the 104-year-old heritage building proved prohibitive to developers.
Now, the redevelopment of the national historic site is moving forward because architects and engineers figured out they could save an old office tower by building a brand-new low-rise structure alongside it.
On Thursday, officials from Red River College and all three levels of government held a ceremony to mark the beginning of a two-year heritage-restoration and construction project that will see the tower and two adjoining buildings become the new home for the college's hospitality and culinary programs, student residences and three restaurants with two outdoor seating areas.
Financially, the $27-million project is moving forward with the help of funding from Ottawa, Manitoba, Winnipeg, downtown development agency CentreVenture, Paterson GlobalFoods, the Winnipeg Foundation and the college itself.
But from a technical standpoint, the construction of a new annex on the west side of the building and the renovation of a smaller building on the south side are what will make the project possible, as the steel-frame "tower" -- considered the oldest "skyscraper" in Western Canada -- could not house the heating and cooling systems necessary for teaching classrooms, kitchens and restaurants on its own.
"We have to put all the machinery in the new buildings," said Dudley Thompson of Prairie Architects, which has designed the redevelopment.
Reconstruction of the tower will begin within weeks, beginning with the heritage restoration of an exterior balcony. The college will then issue tenders for the heavy construction, which should begin in March 2010 and conclude in time for the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, college vice-president Rob Olson said.
The addition of new structures will add 40,000 square feet to what's now a 50,000-square-foot tower. The bottom three floors of the resulting 90,000-square-foot complex will house what will be called the Paterson GlobalFoods Institute, which will include a 40,000-square-foot home for Red River College culinary programs currently crammed into 12,000 square feet at the college's King Edward campus.
The institute will also house a high-end teaching restaurant, a casual eatery on the south side of the complex and a takeout restaurant facing west into Old Market Square, which is undergoing renovations of its own.
The upper floors of the tower will become student residences, bringing dozens more people into a desirable but still underpopulated corner of the Exchange District.
"By having people here 24 hours a day, it will help revitalize the area," said Red River graduate Andrew Paterson, the CEO of Paterson GlobalFoods and the chairman of a fundraising campaign for the project.
Paterson GlobalFoods contributed $2 million to the project, which is also being funded by $500,000 from the Winnipeg Foundation, $2 million from the city and CentreVenture, $4.5 million from the province and $10.5 million from the federal government and federal tax credits.
Up to $3 million more will come from the college itself, pending the results of Paterson's fundraising campaign, college president Jeff Zabudsky said.
The tower last had a tenant in 1992, when it served as a bank. The city then developed and abandoned a plan to place offices in the tower before Pace-Greentree Builders purchased it and eventually donated it to the Red River project in return for a tax credit.