Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Selinger vows to build on four downtown lots

Mayor says it's his idea, developer applauds move

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The NDP pledged Monday to build condos and apartments on four government-owned surface parking lots in downtown Winnipeg, the same lots many have called a scourge.

At a campaign announcement in front of the Winnipeg Convention Centre, Premier Greg Selinger said the NDP hopes to encourage the construction of another 1,400 condo and apartment units downtown in addition to 700 already underway.

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But three of the four lots were earmarked for development well before Monday's announcement. Manitoba Public Insurance has been planning for months to begin a formal search for developers willing to build on two of its lots. And it's long been understood the Winnipeg Convention Centre would expand due south over a surface lot on York Avenue.

Monday, Selinger re-promised the province's support for the WCC's expansion.

He said the parking lots are located within downtown development agency CentreVenture's proposed sports, hospitality and entertainment district around the MTS Centre and the convention centre.

The premier said though he would sell government-owned land to private developers at market rates, an NDP government would encourage new housing through the use of its residential development grants and tax-increment financing.

He said there's "no guarantee" all the housing units the province is hoping to see built will materialize in the next four years.

"But we'll get the land available, get the projects rolling and, subject to private-sector interest, those projects will move forward," Selinger said. "We already know that they (developers) are interested."

Sunstone Resort Communities' Bill Coady, whose company built one of the new Waterfront Drive condominiums, said he is among those interested. Coady approached the government last year hoping to buy one of its lots and was told they were too valuable as income properties.

He said it's good news the NDP has changed its mind.

"Those lots are just killing the downtown," he said.

There are well over 150 major surface parking lots downtown, many of which are owned by the province, the city or some other public body. They are widely seen as the worst possible use of prime land short of letting it go to seed.

The four lots the NDP has tapped for development are the easy ones. They're huge, almost an entire block in most cases. They're well-located in fairly safe areas of the downtown and close to restaurants, churches, the Millennium Library and the MTS Centre.

The province also owns a huge lot next to the Manitoba Museum and two parcels forming one lot on Kennedy Street next to the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Downtown Biz executive director Stefano Grande applauded the parking lot plan but said he hopes the government puts clear criteria on the developments to ensure density, street-level shops and restaurants and other elements will complement the new entertainment district.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz was less enthused.

He ridiculed Selinger's promise, saying the city is way ahead of the NDP when it comes to working with surface-lot owners to redevelop the properties, including the MPI-owned lot west of cityplace and the lot south of the convention centre.

During the 2010 civic election campaign, Katz promised to provide incentives to build on such lots.

While those incentives have yet to materialize, CentreVenture has been working with private property owners. The city is also contributing $10 million to the construction of a pair of new mixed-use parkades, one east of the Centennial Concert Hall and the other north of Portage Avenue.

"I am absolutely flattered any leader of a provincial party would use my platform to go forward in a provincial election," Katz said.

 

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

LOTS IN STORE FOR NDP

MPI lot across from cityplace

Size: 1.6 acres, 213 stalls

Value: $3.4 million

Status: Already part of an expression of interest about to be issued by MPI.

 

MPI lot at the corner of St. Mary Avenue and Donald Street

Size: 0.9 acres, 116 stalls

Value: $1.2 million

Status: Already part of an expression of interest about to be issued by MPI.

 

Worker's Compensation Board lot just north of the WCB's head office

Size: 2.1 acres, 252 stalls

Value: (portion of $10.1 million)

Status: Parking for WCB staff.

 

Parking lot across York Avenue from the Winnipeg Convention Centre

Size: 2.1 acres, 286 stalls,

Value: $4.3 million

Status: Slated to be the site of an expanded convention centre. In July, the WCC began a formal search for construction firms interested in taking on the estimated $180-million task of adding 250,000 square feet of space to the downtown facility by expanding south across York Avenue.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 20, 2011 A7

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