The dream of breathing new life into a long-vacant Main Street heritage building has turned into a nightmare for a local developer.
Mark Buleziuk, an auctioneer and owner of Space2Work.com, a Winnipeg boutique development firm, and his wife, Shelley, decided nearly four years ago to spend several million dollars on revitalizing the 100-year-old Scott Block at 272 Main St. The plan was to restore the building's original heritage features and turn it into a modern retail/office complex with a completely renovated interior and new elevator and mechanical systems.
However, the city's historical buildings and resources committee was told last week those plans hit a major roadblock after changes were made to the floors in the building which rendered it unsafe to occupy. So the city has refused to issue an occupancy permit until the problem is corrected.
The committee was told Buleziuk has since filed a lawsuit in Manitoba Court of Queen's bench over the allegedly botched renovation work. In the meantime, he's stuck with a building he can't rent out, and he has told city officials it's cost-prohibitive for him to continue carrying a vacant building that isn't generating any rental income.
He wants to sell the property, but potential buyers have said they're not interested in purchasing it if it has a historical-building designation.
Last Thursday, Buleziuk appeared before the city's historical buildings committee asking that the building be removed from the historical buildings list, even though it was at his request that it was added to the list in 2012.
However, the advisory committee, which consists of heritage and planning experts from the private sector and all three levels of government, concluded there is no justification for delisting it. So it's recommending the city's standing committee on downtown development and heritage deny Buleziuk's request.
City Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who chairs the historical buildings committee, said the features of the building that led to it being designated a historical building are still there and won't be affected by any remediation work that needs to be done to make the building safe for occupancy.
"So from the committee's point of view, there is no justification whatsoever for delisting it," she said. "It's a heritage asset that's important to the streetscape and for a number of other reasons, and the city has to protect its heritage assets."
The committee members also took the position Buleziuk's financial issues have no bearing on the heritage status of the building, she added.
Heritage Winnipeg, which presented the Buleziuks with a Preservation Award earlier this year for exposing and restoring the building's original facade, is also adamantly opposed to it being delisted.
Executive director Cindy Tugwell, who attended last week's committee meeting, said the group fears if the building is delisted, it will be demolished to make way for a new development.
"Why else would you go for a delisting?" she added.
She's also worried about the precedent it would set, fearing it could lead to other building owners asking to have their buildings delisted because of the cost to maintain the designation.
"A historical designation is convenient when they (building owners) want tax credits or grants, but not convenient if they run into problems and want to (tear) it down," she added.
Tugwell said it's her understanding the structural problems arose when they poured new concrete floors and made them too thick, and the extra weight has made the building structurally unsound.
Buleziuk and city officials were unavailable for comment. Gerbasi said the matter now has to go before the standing committee on downtown development and heritage at either its September or November meeting.
"Ultimately that committee will decide (whether to delist the building)," she added.