Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/7/2016 (245 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Before breaking for the summer, Winnipeg’s city council approved the closure of a lane of roadway on James Avenue near Waterfront Drive.
This closure was in order to expand the adjacent James Avenue Pumping Station property so redevelopment of this long-vacant heritage building can be financially feasible.
Replacing the traffic lane will be a public sidewalk lined with trees that will serve as a link between the Red River waterfront and the emerging East Exchange District.
Built in 1906, the James Avenue Pumping Station housed an engineering system that drew water from the Red River to provide high-pressure fire protection in the young city’s booming business district. A simple brick facade and a twin-peaked roof, it is easy to imagine this building redeveloped as a brew pub or an indoor market.
On the inside, however, things get complicated. Much of the pumping system’s original mechanical implements remain in place. This is what has kept the building standing as an irreplaceable remnant of mechanical engineering at the turn of the last century, but also what places significant limitations on its redevelopment.
In the 30 years since the pumping station ceased operation, more than a dozen redevelopment proposals have come and gone, even as the Waterfront Drive neighbourhood grew up around its boarded-up exterior.
To make the current proposal work, two standalone mixed-use buildings will rise at the front and back of the old pumping station, which itself will be restored with some office space in the rafters and the mechanical system retained and viewable through reopening the building’s many large windows.
Precedent for this kind of development is found on the opposite side of Waterfront Drive, where the construction of the Mere Hotel on vacant land enabled the development of the old Harbourmaster building as a beautifully scaled Cibo restaurant, where a T-shirt-clad Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently set local hearts aflutter on a recent visit.
Council’s approval of the lane closure has significance not just for the future repurposing of what has become one of the Exchange District’s most conspicuous vacant buildings, but also of the redesign of the neighbourhood’s streets.
That a stretch of roadway can be replaced by a sidewalk with no opposition from the city’s traffic department parking authority indicates there are street spaces in the Exchange that are superfluous in their current form.
As the neighbourhood transitioned into a wholesale and manufacturing district in the first half of the 20th century, streets were fashioned with wide roadways and narrow sidewalks, allowing trucks (and horse-drawn wagons before them) to handily manoeuvre in and out from the district’s myriad loading docks and alleys. Curbside loading zones kept parking spaces in short supply.
With vestigial exceptions, wholesaling and manufacturing have faded from the Exchange, but the street designs and regulations that accommodated them still remain on many blocks.
Responding to criticism that this closure on James Avenue is only the latest degradation of the East Exchange’s tight parking supply, area councillor Mike Pagtakhan vowed the city would look into new on-street options, including assessing the current number of loading zones and looking at angled parking on certain streets.
The idea for angled parking in the Exchange is nothing new. In 2006, the city embarked on studying it on one block Arthur Street, though nothing came of it. A decade later, with increased development pressure in the Exchange, this idea is poised to be dusted off.
Angled parking provides more parking spaces for motorists than parallel parking, while calming traffic for the pedestrian environment. Banished from Winnipeg’s downtown streets by speed-obsessed traffic engineers by the 1950s, angled parking is still found on the main streets of Manitoba towns such as Beausejour, Lac du Bonnet and Neepawa.
In the Exchange District, short and low-traffic streets such as Arthur, James, Albert and parts of Market are oversized relative to their traffic demand and are potentially a missed opportunity for more efficient options that benefit all users, such as angled parking and wider sidewalks.
Street spaces as public rights-of-way often have greater permanence than the buildings that line them. (James Avenue was first surveyed in 1872; other streets nearby are even older.) Like the old buildings of the Exchange District that have found new uses, the streets that make up the neighbourhood’s jumbled grid can be adapted to new needs over time.
Robert Galston is a master’s candidate in the city planning department at the University of Manitoba.