Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wagon Wheel rolling till July

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The Wagon Wheel Lunch restaurant has been given a three-month stay of evacuation but it's still not clear if the maker of Winnipeg's favourite clubhouse sandwich will live on in downtown Winnipeg.

The more than half-century-old culinary institution was supposed to vacate its longtime home in the Norlyn Building on Hargrave Street by the end of March, but Franny Gomez, who has been steering the Wagon Wheel for the past two years, said she has been given an extension until the end of June.

The Norlyn is one of several buildings to have a date with a wrecking ball in the short run as plans for downtown Winnipeg's SHED (sports hospitality and entertainment district) take shape.

While thousands of Winnipeggers have been singing the praises of the return of the Winnipeg Jets, Gomez said the rising demand for real estate that has ensued might make it impossible for her to continue.

"Holy mackerel, some places are very, very expensive. That's really troubling. If I can't afford it, it's not fun. I don't want to go overboard," she said.

Ross McGowan, president of CentreVenture Development Corp., the downtown agency leading the SHED charge, said he and his team are going to do everything they can to help keep the Wagon Wheel rolling.

"We want to make sure if there is an opportunity to save the Wagon Wheel that we're all there at the table. It's the right thing to do. It's an institution that has been around for more than 50 years.

"It's extremely compatible with the long-range objective of downtown, which is having sustainable businesses. They have clearly demonstrated they're viable," he said.

If a suitable place is found where Gomez can attempt to recreate the Wagon Wheel's lunch counter and booths, CentreVenture might be able to lend a hand, McGowan said.

"We'd like to see a business plan. If it says (Gomez) can support a certain amount of business at a certain rent level, maybe we can help fill that gap. We're looking to be a bridge to make the transition as easy as we possibly can for her," he said.

Gomez said many of her customers have been coming by for one last lunch in their favourite booth and encouraging her to keep the dream alive.

"We had some ladies in for breakfast on Wednesday who told me they were here because they heard we were closing shortly. I told them we had a little extension and they were really excited," she said.

The SHED blueprints include the construction of a new hotel, a parkade, new office and retail space and a central meeting place over the next few years. There is no firm cost estimate on the massive project, but insiders say it will run well into the "hundreds of millions" of dollars.

The first wrecking ball is expected to swing on the former Wild Planet building on the north side of Portage Avenue within the next couple of weeks.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2012 B3

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