Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Warehouse district at risk?

Heritage group puts region on endangered list

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The paradise of the city's warehouse district -- including the Exchange District National Historic Site -- is in danger of being paved into parkades and overtaken by new buildings.

That's the warning from the national non-profit organization Heritage Canada Foundation, which placed the warehouse district in its sixth annual Top Ten Endangered Places list on Wednesday.

Carolyn Quinn, a foundation spokeswoman, said the list is designed to draw attention to areas under threat across the nation.

"Sometimes when you live amongst them, you don't always notice what's notable about them," she said.

"Winnipeg is lucky -- or burdened -- depending on your point of view, with the responsibility of having that district.

"But it's like a person once told me: You can have a beautiful smile, but if you start taking out teeth, you diminish the smile. It is disconcerting when a decision is made to delist a building when a previous council has listed it as heritage."

Other endangered sites include Kitsilano Senior Secondary School in Vancouver, Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, and the Porter/McKinley block -- home to one of the last remaining intact opera houses in Ontario -- in Ridgetown.

"It's upsetting," Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, chairwoman of the city's historical buildings committee, said when she learned the warehouse area was on the endangered list. "I am very concerned about this... . We have a heritage asset here -- it's a national historic site -- and we have the responsibility to be stewards of it."

Gerbasi said the most grievous loss in the area was the Grain Exchange Annex, built in 1920, because it was in the heart of the national historic site.

"I don't know how we could have done that," she said. "When you lose a heritage asset, it is gone -- you can't bring it back."

Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, said she wants to see more input from the public before city councillors vote to list or delist heritage buildings.

"The Exchange District is important for its economic impact," Tugwell said. "As you erode the Exchange, you'll lose tourism dollars and film-industry dollars. It's one of the most important areas in Canada.

"The public doesn't have a say," Tugwell said, pointing to the new Cube stage in Old Market Square as an example of something that shouldn't have been built there. "This is a park in a historic area," she said. "It's the heartbeat."

But Ross McGowan, executive director of CentreVenture, the city's property development agency, calls the foundation's list "irresponsible and inaccurate."

The Main Street buildings demolished for construction of a new Winnipeg Regional Health Authority clinic and offices were vacant for 20 years, he said. "Anyone, including Heritage Canada Foundation, could have purchased them for $1 and no one ever did."

McGowan said the list is too focused on the negatives and not enough on the positives, including the redevelopment of the Union Bank Tower for Red River College.

"CentreVenture is very supportive of heritage conservation," he said.

"(The foundation) should be lobbying for additional capital from the federal government to help save these buildings... . The Metropolitan Theatre is a national historic site, but it would cost a 30 per cent premium to do a proper restoration project on it -- that's a lot to ask a private developer."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 12, 2010 B1

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