Construction of Upper Fort Garry Heritage Park will resume within two weeks at the empty downtown lot that marks Winnipeg's birthplace.
The City of Winnipeg has granted the Friends of Upper Fort Garry a permit to continue the conversion of most of the downtown city block bounded by Main Street, Broadway, Assiniboine Avenue and Fort Street into a $19-million heritage park.
In 2008, the non-profit group convinced the city to walk away from a plan to allow an apartment tower to rise on the southwest corner of the block, just outside Upper Fort Garry's original footprint. Since taking title to the site in 2009, the organization has demolished three buildings -- a former city office building on Main Street, the Grain Exchange Curling Club on Fort Street and a Petro-Canada station on Broadway -- and remediated the soil where the gas station used to stand.
Within the next week or two, a fence will rise around the site as a prelude to the removal of concrete and other leftover construction materials, said Garry Hilderman, chairman of the Friends' design and development committee.
Landscaping work will follow later this summer and a 120-metre heritage wall will rise during the winter, Hilderman said. The plan is to open the park by the fall of 2013 and then continue planning the design and construction of an interpretive centre, he said.
"The park may open in stages. We're not going to wait until the full concept is complete," said Hilderman, whose group has raised approximately $12 million in private and public donations or future funding commitments. "We have to stage things in bits and pieces because our cash flow is the issue. We have five-year pledges, which means the money does not arrive all at once."
Earlier this year, the Friends of Upper Fort Garry informally approached the city with a plan to operate a temporary surface parking lot at the southwest corner of the site, where the city used to operate its own parking lot.
"It's worth a fair chunk of money that would flow back to this project," Hilderman said of a temporary lot that would operate for six months to a year. "It's an existing parking lot and we can earn some money, but the city doesn't want us to do that."
The city would deny any formal request to operate this lot, said property director Barry Thorgrimson, repeating the city's stance in March.
"To see parked cars there is not an acceptable land use for the downtown," he said, adding the demolition of the city building at 100 Main St. has temporarily diminished the urban landscape.
"It's one of the premier sites in the downtown and we want to see it developed. There were also promises made and expectations for development to take place on the site," he said.
Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, whose ward includes the Upper Fort Garry site, said she strongly supports the creation of the heritage park but would oppose a temporary surface lot.
"Temporary surface lots have a tendency to remain longer than initially planned," she said.
The design concept for Upper Fort Garry Heritage Park is online at www.upperfortgarry.com .