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This article was published 8/1/2009 (3057 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Point Douglas Coun. Mike Pagtakhan claims improper planning tools and too little cash were responsible for design changes that eliminated pedestrian access and street-level retail stores from the $30-million office and parking complex under construction at Main Street north of Logan Avenue.
Pagtakhan, who chairs city council's downtown development committee, is the most senior civic official to criticize the esthetics of the WRHA's new building since North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty and Heritage Winnipeg director Cindy Tugwell described the four-storey structure as a disappointment on Tuesday.
"I was told there was supposed to be more of a pedestrian-oriented development at the bottom of the parkade and the health authority ran out of money, so that was pulled," Pagtakhan said Thursday.
"I'm glad there is some revitalization taking place on Main Street and there will be a (WRHA) presence with office space. Hopefully, with this comes more pedestrian traffic. But I am saddened we as a city don't have the proper planning tools to enforce more of a pedestrian-oriented development."
In March 2008, downtown development agency CentreVenture announced the Resolve Group, a private developer, would build a new office, parking and retail complex on Main Street that would move more than 200 WRHA employees into new offices and a health and social services centre called Access Downtown.
The original plan called for broad setbacks from Main Street and commercial space below a parkade at the complex's north end. But the building now under construction edges right up to the Main Street sidewalk and the commercial space is gone, partly because the building's architect had to redesign the ramps for the parkade, CentreVenture president Ross McGowan said.
"It's a drastic improvement to the streetscape," he said, referring to the dilapidated heritage theatres and commercial buildings that used to stand on that stretch of Main Street. He also refuted Pagtakhan's claim that money had anything to do with the final design.
Barry Thorgrimson, the city's economic development manager, said the building's final form was approved by the city's urban design advisory committee, a group of architects and engineers the city asks to ensure projects comply with city bylaws and codes.
"A lot of times, designs or visions change over time. A vision is what you like (to do). When you sit down and start applying codes and regulations, sometimes it changes," Thorgrimson said. "Personally, I think it's going to be a very attractive structure, once it's completed. It certainly has a different look and feel, but I feel it is important we did not compromise the bylaws."
According to an artist's conception on the WRHA's website, more glass and cladding will be added to the Main Street side of the building to soften the facade. But the WRHA had no say in the design, spokeswoman Heidi Graham said.
"We're the tenant, not the developer," she said. "We gave them our requirements."
About 100 WRHA office workers will move into the building, while 119 people will work at Access Downtown, which will offer home care, mental health, income assistance and primary care, Graham said.
Pagtakhan said he is certain the WRHA's presence will enhance Main Street, but remains disappointed by the look of the building.
"Everything, right from the ground, is closed. It's almost like a fortress and you can't get in," he said. "It could have been done a whole lot better."
The president of the Resolve Group and the architect behind the project could not be reached for comment.