The owner of the St. Charles Hotel has taken the City of Winnipeg to court to remove the historic designation from the 101-year-old Exchange District structure, which he hopes to demolish.
Immigration lawyer Ken Zaifman wants the city to remove a heritage caveat from the title of the hotel, which he purchased in 2005 for $800,000 and later pledged to redevelop into a boutique hotel.
In documents filed with the Court of Queen's Bench, Zaifman argued he wasn't aware the building was designated a historic property when he bought it and likely would not have made the purchase had he known that.
Zaifman also argued the caveat should be removed because the city missed a December 2011 deadline for placing the caveat on the building -- something the province ordered the city to do for all heritage buildings as part of an amendment to the City of Winnipeg Charter the previous year.
'Going the legal route is not an option I embraced with any enthusiasm'
Zaifman told the Free Press he has applied for a demolition permit and asked the city to remove the caveat, but the city refused.
"Going the legal route is not an option I embraced with any enthusiasm," he said.
In an affidavit, Zaifman said he always intended to redevelop the property, "which in my view requires the demolition of the premises in order to make way for a new structure."
The city countered in its own affidavit that Zaifman was aware the St. Charles was a heritage structure because the corporation he controls, St. Charles Enterprises Centre, is the entity that applied for the historic designation in the first place.
City lawyer Markus Buchart said even if Zaifman didn't know about the designation, it was incumbent on his attorneys to find out it was a historic building because the list of those buildings is a public document.
Buchart nonetheless insisted Zaifman was aware it was a historic building and cited as evidence a meeting between Zaifman and city heritage officials, as well as a 2004 email from Zaifman to former city heritage planner Giles Bugailiskis during which Zaifman stated he expected to work with the city's historic buildings committee.
On Feb. 21, Buchart asked the court to throw out the case.
Zaifman's lawyer, Jamie Kagan, said his client only met with city heritage officials because the St. Charles Hotel is located within the Exchange District National Historic Site, a federally designated area.
Kagan also said it doesn't matter whether his client knew about the historic designation. What's more important, he said, is the city missed the deadline for placing the caveat on the property by two months. The heritage caveat should have been placed in December 2011 but was not placed on the title until February 2012.
This argument will be presented when the case returns to court March 17.
Buchart, meanwhile, claimed the two-month delay in placing the caveat caused Zaifman no harm. Buchart also noted Zaifman did not apply to remove the historic designation from the building -- an option available to the owner of any heritage structure.
Zaifman said in an interview he always maintained an open mind about preserving the building. "I didn't go into the project with the predisposition to demolish it. No one seems to want to accept this, because of the delay," he said, referring to the eight years it has taken to redevelop the structure.
Zaifman first approached the city with a plan to redevelop the hotel in 2006. But his initial proposal depended on the demolition the adjacent Albert Street Business Block -- something the city refused until substantial improvements were made to the St. Charles. The business block later burned down.
As the hotel stood vacant, the city began slapping vacant-and derelict-building orders on the structure in 2010. Those orders continued until 2013, when the city came close to seizing the property with the intention of selling it.
Zaifman said pressure from the city and criticism from Heritage Winnipeg led him to review his documents and discover the city failed to meet the provincial deadline. City spokesman Steve West said the city is contesting the action.