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This article was published 9/3/2015 (747 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Victoria developer has set out to accomplish what several other developers were unable to do -- convert a century-old former candy factory in the East Exchange District into a residential complex.
Alston Properties has already gutted the 109-year-old Galpern Building at 165 McDermot Ave., and is poised to begin converting the six-storey heritage building into 30 one-bedroom rental apartments and four two-bedroom townhouse units.
"Within a month, we hope to be going full steam ahead (on the construction work)," Bryce Alston said in an interview. The hope is to have the building ready for occupancy early next year.
The head of the city's downtown development agency, CentreVenture Development Corp., said it's good to see someone finally redeveloping the Galpern Building. "We are very excited about the prospects of this project -- 34 rental units in a grand heritage building that has been vacant for so many years," Angela Mathieson said in a written statement.
"This is the first rental residential project on the east side of Main Street in the heritage district, providing another choice for people looking to live downtown," she added.
Alston, who moved to Winnipeg last year to manage the project, said their family-owned firm believes it can succeed where other developers have failed because it's also the general contractor for the project. The cost savings from that, coupled with the tax relief it hopes to obtain under the new city-provincial Live Downtown-- Residential Development Grant Program, will make it financially feasible, he added.
Feb. 13 was the deadline for submissions to the program, which aims to stimulate the development of 750 to 900 new apartments downtown by offering property owners a rebate on property taxes.
The program will be managed by CentreVenture and Loretta Martin, the agency's director of development.
Martin said it's too soon to reveal how many applications were received or to comment further.
"We're just starting the review process."
It's not a stretch for Alston Properties to be handling the general contracting duties for the project, because that's what the 34-year-old company is -- a general contractor. It's only in recent years it has branched out into real estate development, with a focus on redeveloping downtown heritage buildings.
Although this is its first such project in Winnipeg, the company has worked on more than a half dozen others in Western Canada, including two of its own in Victoria.
"We love doing these projects," Alston said. "They're tough and they're dirty, but at the end of the day you have a building right downtown that can't be replaced, really."
The 24-year-old said the company, which is headed up by his father, Michael, likes Winnipeg's Exchange District because of the abundance of older warehouses that have the potential to be redeveloped.
Buildings here are also more affordable than in downtown Victoria, Vancouver or Calgary -- the three other cities where it has worked on these types of projects.
The conversion of the Galpern Building, which is also referred to as the Porter Building, is the first of several redevelopment projects the company hopes to tackle in downtown Winnipeg. "We're actively looking at other (buildings) right now. We're looking at all sorts of stuff. We're not even opposed to doing a new building, as well," Alston said.
Among the buildings they've looked at is the city's former James Avenue pumping station on Waterfront Drive. CentreVenture has been trying for years to find someone who can redevelop the 108-year-old heritage building and somehow incorporate the existing structure and its historic equipment into the project.
An ambitious plan by a group of local developers to build a 24-storey apartment/retail tower on top of the existing building failed to get off the ground.
"They decided not to proceed with it," Martin said, but declined to say why.
Alston said it's an intriguing property, "but there are so many different parameters you have to work with there. It's not cut and dried. And that's what gets scary -- the unknowns of it."
He said they haven't ruled out taking a run at it, but will likely wait to see if CentreVenture issues a formal request for proposals.
Their plan for the Galpern/Porter building involves converting the top five floors into 30 apartment-style units. They will all be one-bedroom units, roughly 500 square feet in size. They'll have an open-concept design, with exposed brick on the exterior wall and exposed wooden joists and beams. The monthly rental rate will be between $1,000 and $1,150.
The main floor and basement area on the Rory Street side of the building will be converted into four two-storey townhouse units. Each will have its own entrance and will be 1,100 to 1,200 square feet in size. The rent will be $1,650 per month.
To accommodate the new apartments, Alston Properties will be adding a total of 50 new windows on the top five floors on the Rory Street side of the building. For the townhouse units, it will add two more big windows on the main floor to complement the two existing ones, as well as new doorways for each townhouse. The main entrance to the building also will be moved closer to the corner of Rory and McDermot.
Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail or industrial real estate sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 204-697-7254.