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Prince's charity interested in old Merchant's Hotel

Project seen as linchpin in efforts to inject life into North End

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The Prince's Charities Canada hosted a meeting at the offices of the North End Community Renewal Corp. Tuesday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The Prince's Charities Canada hosted a meeting at the offices of the North End Community Renewal Corp. Tuesday. Photo Store

Prince Charles wants to help clean up Selkirk Avenue.

The Prince's Charities Canada, the Canadian office of the Prince of Wales' charitable organization, has identified the Winnipeg North End neighbourhood as a project of special interest.

In particular, those efforts are focused on the redevelopment of the old Merchants Hotel which, until 2011 when it was acquired by a community initiative, was seen as a major source of trouble in the neighbourhood.

A $10-million to $12-million mixed-use plan featuring housing, secondary and post-secondary education and commercial space is envisioned.

And community organizers say it is well advanced in its efforts to line up partners and funding for the project and believe the spotlight The Prince's Charities can shine on it will help.

Michael Shapcott, director of business and community initiatives for The Prince's Charities Canadian office based in Toronto, organized a meeting of business and community leaders and residents Tuesday in an attempt to both move that project along as well as engage the business community in determining commercial and service needs in the neighbourhood.

"The idea was to have a very practical conversation about the gathering momentum in the community and the recognition that the initiative is moving forward," Shapcott said.

"We wanted to present some real opportunities for people in the community and opportunities for business to see the re-generation of the community as well."

While Shapcott was not writing cheques on the Prince's behalf, he did bring representatives of Scotiabank and KPMG and Dave Angus, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, to the meeting to get a first-hand report of what's going on in one of the city's oldest neighbourhoods.

"I am so impressed with this community and delighted to be part of this in a supportive role," Angus said. "There is great energy and commitment here."

He said the chamber can play a role by making its members aware of the opportunities.

Efforts to regenerate the area have been ongoing for about 20 years -- the North End Community Renewal Corp. (NECRC) opened in 1998 -- so it is not as if they are starting from scratch.

Diane Roussin, executive director of the newly formed Winnipeg Boldness Project, which focuses on early-childhood development, said, "People hear about the negative things going on here, but there is a real narrative of positive change as well."

Research and surveys show residents believe the commercial and services most needed include grocery stores, bank branches and pet food stores.

But getting the Merchants Hotel project underway is seen as the crucial element that would have plenty of spinoff effects.

Robert Neufeld, executive director of NECRC, said they will make an announcement in the near future about progress in renovating the old hotel.

"We don't have all the partners here so we can't say anything now, but we have plenty of good hot irons in the fire," Neufeld said.

The plan calls for about 30 residential units and a satellite campus of the University of Winnipeg from the department of urban and inner cities studies.

Jim Silver, chairman of that department, said there is plenty of enthusiasm from the university to move in. He is convinced the hotel's redevelopment is crucial to changing outcomes in the neighbourhood and The Prince's Charities can help.

"The Merch is the linchpin," he said. "It will need capital investment. They (the Prince's Charities) can bring the corporate players to the table and that may be beneficial. As Robert said, we are hard at work in assembling the capital."

Shapcott was in town partly to do advance work ahead of Prince Charles' visit to Winnipeg later this month.

Community organizers hope the focus of attention will be sustained after the hype of Prince Charles's visit subsides.

 

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 7, 2014 A7

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