The owner of the St. Charles Hotel has lost a court battle to strip the historic designation from the 101-year-old Exchange District structure -- but the hotel may yet be demolished.
Queen's Bench Justice Chris Martin has sided with the City of Winnipeg in a lawsuit launched by St. Charles Enterprises and its owner Ken Zaifman, who wanted the city to remove a heritage caveat from the hotel's title.
Zaifman purchased the St. Charles in 2005 for $800,000 and later pledged to redevelop it into a boutique hotel. In court documents, he initially argued he wasn't aware the hotel was a heritage property.
At a hearing in March, Zaifman's lawyer Jamie Kagan argued the caveat should be removed because the city missed a 2011 deadline for placing the caveat on the building - something the province ordered the city to do as part of an amendment to the City of Winnipeg Charter.
City lawyer Markus Buchart argued Zaifman was attempting to exploit a procedural technicality by arguing the caveat was placed on the property two months late. Kagan countered the court had no authority to allow the city any leeway in failing to comply with a charter change.
In a decision issued in late May, Justice Martin said "nothing of consequence" occurred to the St. Charles during the two-month delay in placing the caveat on the property and declined to create a rule that would remove heritage designations from all city historic buildings.
"The judge saw what the argument was really about," said John Kiernan, Winnipeg's manager of urban design, adding 700 Winnipeg properties could have lost their heritage designations.
Kiernan said the city has reviewed new plans for the hotel site and is amenable to allowing the building to be demolished providing the facade remains. Masonry testing has revealed tiles that cover part the original exterior can be removed safely, Kiernan said.
"People ask why is the St. Charles so important when it's only a facade? It's because it's the gateway to the Exchange District," he said.
Kagan and Zaifman could not be reached for comment. They were given two weeks to appeal.