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Order may cost African group

Proposed site of centre must be paved

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A city order to get rid of a downtown surface parking lot may end up costing an African community group.

On Monday, council's downtown development committee voted to deny Arni Thorsteinson's appeal to allow an illegal surface parking lot at 370 Hargrave St. The 140-stall gravel parking lot was not approved by the city, and officials ordered Thorsteinson to remove all vehicles immediately.

Thorsteinson asked for a two-year extension on the order, saying he plans to sell the lot to the African-Canadian Foundation to build a community centre and apartment buildings on the site. He said it will cost about $400,000 to pave and improve the lot to meet minimum standards if he has to obtain city approval for the surface lot.

The committee voted to give Thorsteinson 90 days to apply for city approval of a surface parking lot on the site.

Chrispin Ntungo, secretary of the African-Canadian Foundation, said that means the foundation will likely have to raise additional funds to purchase the land from Thorsteinson. Ntungo said the foundation has managed to raise $900,000 of the project's $7-million cost and has asked the federal and provincial governments to each contribute $2.5 million.

"He has to develop the land to meet the requirements of the city," Ntungo said. "That will cost and increase the value of the land, so when we eventually acquire it, the bottom line will no longer be $7 million."

Currently, the parking lot is on the former site of the Young Men's Hebrew Association on the west side of Hargrave Street between Ellice and Qu'Appelle avenues, less than two blocks from Central Park. The African-Canadian Foundation has been working on plans to build a new culture and recreation centre, and Thorsteinson has offered the group the chance to build the new centre on the prime downtown parcel.

City property director Barry Thorgrimson said the previous order to remove the illegal surface lot expired in 2011 and "slipped through the cracks" at city hall for two years. He said Winnipeg has minimum standards for downtown parking lots that stipulate they must have a hard surface, adequate drainage, lighting and landscaping.

Thorgrimson said the department will work with Thorsteinson to get his application in, and planners will assess its merits and impact on the downtown. He said there will be an impact on parking if the 140 stalls are eliminated.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) said everyone supports the African community's project, and the committee was not trying to undermine it.

"It's up to the person who has an illegal parking lot in the downtown to get the proper approvals and to work through the process properly. We can't expect the city to disregard all the rules," she said.



Oui to Chez Sophie

Also at council's downtown development committee:

Chez Sophie is set to become the new restaurant on Esplanade Riel. Council's downtown development committee unanimously approved the five-year lease agreement Monday. It does not require further approval by executive policy committee or city council. Chez Sophie will replace Salisbury House on the bridge and the restaurant's lease begins April 1. Chez Sophie has operated on Avenue de la Cathedrale since 2005. It is operated by Stephane and Sophie Wild, who are from France's Alsace region.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 5, 2013 A3

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