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Sport Manitoba to revisit inner-city field house plan

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SPORT Manitoba has put off its plan to demolish part of a 125-year-old warehouse building, but will still move from the south side of Main Street to the eastern fringe of the Exchange District.

The non-profit organization, which represents almost 100 amateur sporting groups, plans to spend up to $16 million to purchase and renovate the Smart Bag Company Building at 145 Pacific Ave., a heritage property currently owned by garment company Prosperity Knitwear.

Sport Manitoba plans to move 200 employees from three floors of rented office space at 200 Main St. into a new Sport for Life Centre, a redeveloped five-storey component of the Smart Bag building that will also house a new museum for the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, officials announced Tuesday.

But the organization has backed away from a plan to demolish the older, three-storey component of the heritage property to make way for a $12-million field house and athletic training centre.

Instead, Sport Manitoba asked city council's property and development committee to grant the building Grade III heritage status, a designation that would allow the organization to revisit the field house concept after it consults with its member organizations and launches a fundraising campaign.

"Our intention was never to get into an issue with the heritage people. We want to make sure whatever we create is something they will be as happy with as we are," Sport Manitoba president Jeff Hnatiuk told reporters Tuesday after Couns. Scott Fielding, Mike O'Shaughnessy, Russ Wyatt and Jeff Browaty voted unanimously to confer the Grade III status on the warehouse.

The city's historical buildings committee wanted to see 145 Pacific Ave. declared a Grade II heritage property, a more vigorous form of protection that is difficult to repeal. But committee chairwoman Jenny Gerbasi and Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell agreed to support the less restrictive heritage designation because it allows Sport Manitoba time to amend its plans for the athletic centre, which could help fill a recreational void in the inner city.

Sport Manitoba's Tuesday morning turnaround came out of a desire to compromise, Hnatiuk said, noting he was not aware 145 Pacific Ave. sat on the city's heritage inventory until Prosperity Knitwear requested permission to demolish the building this fall.

About 400 city properties are listed on the registry, which represents a heavy caseload for a small cadre of city heritage planners. The backlog of evaluations creates confusion for developers and a panic situation for heritage advocates whenever a demolition request or new development triggers an evaluation of one of these listed but undesignated properties.

Gerbasi and Tugwell said they were caught off guard by Sport Manitoba's demolition proposal, which the organization had pondered for two years. So was the provincial government, which plans to loan Sport Manitoba the money for the office relocation component of the Sport for Life Centre.

"The idea of a sports/athletic facility was raised with us as a concept, but hadn't progressed beyond that," said a spokesman for the province.

The future field house and training centre, a "generic space" to be used by many types of athletes "from the grassroots through to high-performance sport," is now at least two years away, Hnatiuk said.

The office renovation, however, will begin at the end of 2009, along with the establishment of a new sport museum that could enhance a downtown Winnipeg "museum district" east of Main Street that already includes the Manitoba Museum, the Costume Museum of Canada and the future Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Sport Manitoba chairman Paul Robson said.

"From a tourist perspective, if you're going to look at things, you're going to want to look at a lot of things," he said.

WRHA edifice takes some heat

AS city councillors and heritage experts pondered the fate of one of downtown Winnipeg's oldest buildings, the newest structure on Main Street wound up taking abuse.

In the middle of the debate Tuesday about the redevelopment of the 125-year-old Smart Bag Company Building on Pacific Avenue, North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty said he was disappointed with the esthetics of another revitalization project -- the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's new edifice on Main Street north of Logan Avenue.

"It's a blight," Browaty said of the WRHA's new four-storey office-and-parkade complex, which he believes is a poor fit for what could have become a pedestrian-friendly stretch of Main. "It's a travesty. It looks atrocious."

Downtown development agency CentreVenture spearheaded the $30-million project, which was touted as a means of breathing new life into one of the most desolate sections of downtown when the project was announced in March.

But the bloom is already off the rose at city hall.

"I'm not happy with it, either," said Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell. "They could have come up with something that complemented the historic streetscape."

-- Kives


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 7, 2009 B1

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