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New core-area highrise a go

Committee clears plan for riverside apartments

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City hall has approved downtown Winnipeg's first new residential highrise in more than two decades but the first residents aren't expected for another four years.

City council's downtown development committee voted unanimously Thursday morning to allow Crystal Developers to build a 25-storey apartment building on a riverfront parcel of Assiniboine Avenue, between the Midtown Bridge and Bonnycastle Park.

The $45-million project, dubbed Heritage Landing on Assiniboine, will include 19 townhouses along Assiniboine Avenue and a 25-storey tower with three floors of commercial space and 22 stories of apartments, with 190 residential units and 200 indoor parking spaces.

Crystal originally planned to build a similar tower at the northeast corner of Fort Street and Assiniboine Avenue, but backed away from a deal to purchase surplus city land in 2008, after the Friends of Upper Fort Garry successfully lobbied to reserve the entire block for a new provincial historical park.

The following year, the city reached a deal to sell Crystal surplus land south of Assiniboine Avenue for $1.8 million to allow the company to build downtown's first residential highrise since the completion of Fort Garry Place in 1990.

The project will create a total of 209 residential units and house approximately 300 people once it's completed in 2014.

"It's been a long time since there's been a residential project in the downtown as significant as this one," Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said Thursday.

Several setbacks in addition to the highly publicized Upper Fort Garry saga have plagued the project.

Soon after the city reached a deal to sell the land south of Assiniboine Avenue, a major hydro line -- forgotten following the sale of Winnipeg Hydro -- ran straight through the property. This forced the city to reduce the sale price by $200,000 and required architects to move the location of the tower.

Early versions of a site plan were rejected for not doing enough to respect the pedestrian-friendly character of Assiniboine Avenue.

But on Thursday, the downtown development committee praised the latest plan as being a good fit for the high-density Broadway-Assiniboine neighbourhood. Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, who represents the area, said she's confident the design by Harold Funk Architect will protect public access to the Assiniboine river walk and Bonnycastle Park.

"We've worked very diligently with all the different city departments. That's why it was delayed over and over again, until we had all our ducks in a row," said Crystal Developers director Rubin Spletzer.

His company hopes to take possession by the end of the year, complete a detailed design in 2011 and get shovels in the ground in late 2011. Construction on the tower will take two years, Spletzer said.

Eight out of nine units on every floor will have river views, said architect Gareth Simons. The intention right now is for all of the units to be high-end rental apartments, though some may be sold as condominiums, he said.

St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, who chairs the downtown development committee, encouraged Crystal to take advantage of city tax credits to allow some units to be more affordable. Gerbasi said Winnipeg must do more to stimulate the creation of affordable housing, but still praised Crystal for developing 300 apartments in a city with a severe shortage of rental units.

According to a city planning report, the project will destroy two trees and present geotechnical challenges for the tower's construction, due to its proximity to the Assiniboine River. But it will not require any traffic improvements on Assiniboine Avenue or the two-way bike boulevard slated to be built along the south side of the street this summer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 11, 2010 B1

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