Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Upper Fort Garry stuck in a rut

Five years after iconic Main Street park announced, organizers short $12M

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If you've driven along south Main Street and wondered why all you see at the future site of the Upper Fort Garry Heritage Park is fencing and several acres of empty space, you're not alone.

 

Which is why I called Jerry Gray, the volunteer chairman of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry.

"We're about three weeks behind," Gray said in reference to winter-like spring weather holding up the start of phase one of the project; $7 million in landscaping and surface work.

"It's been a long time coming," he added.

And it could get even longer.

It's been just over five years since the Friends -- an A list of the city's who's who -- met a deadline to raise $10 million within 31/2 months to assume control of the city-owned property.

That was fast. But everything has been in slow motion ever since.

Actually, the landscaping that will create the park-like setting is more like two years than three weeks behind schedule, according to what the Friends announced in May 2010. That's when they unveiled expanded plans to commemorate the birthplace of Manitoba.

Last June, the Friends revised that schedule. The new plan was to have the landscaping and phase two -- the signature $3.5-million, 120-metre fabricated-steel heritage wall -- completed that winter, with the park opening this fall.

Obviously, that's not going to happen.

Now, the hope is to have the landscaping done by this fall and the wall completed by next summer. That would allow the park to open next year.

But it still wouldn't be the park the Friends envision and the public expects because it won't have the last and most expensive piece; the interpretive centre.

Still, Gray's goal is for the project, with the interpretive centre in place, to be finished by 2015.

I'd like to be as hopeful as him about that timeline, but I'm not.

Construction costs are going up and the Friends still need to raise up to $12 million, by Gray's estimate.

"It's a very hard figure to nail down," he said.

Indeed, like the park's construction schedule, the fundraising has become a moving target, not unlike the Canadian Museum for Human Rights' situation across the road at The Forks.

Now, because there has been a lag between fundraising pledged and money in the bank, the Friends can pay for all of the $7-million landscaping, but not all of the estimated $3.5 million it will cost to build the wall.

And what had been a $19-million budget three years ago for completion of the park's three phases, is closer to $20 million, according to Gray.

Or even more, if I read it right.

That's partly because the Friends don't have a quote on the cost of either the wall or the interpretive centre. What's more concerning is how the Friends, as connected as they are, can be expected to raise millions at a time when local philanthropists are feeling tapped out. Governments clearly are. Still, the ever-positive and cheerful Jerry Gray seems confident the Friends can do it, even though their fundraising profile has been invisible since March 2008 and their new public campaign isn't scheduled to start before June.

What makes the Friends' mission more daunting is the hole they've literally dug for themselves, paying for archeological work, knocking down three buildings, including a curling rink they had to buy, plus a range of other pre-landscaping costs. None of which was in the original budget.

"We have spent $4 million," Gray said, "and what you see for that is a vacant lot."

Later on the day Gray and I spoke, I chanced to meet someone who helped with the Friends' initial emergency fundrasing campaign five years ago. Sandra Jones, of Jones Communications, asked me if remembered dropping by Clifton School five years ago to see what the students were doing to raise money for the Friends deadline-driven campaign.

I told her I did.

Sandra proceeded to tell me something I didn't know. She said the kids from Clifton visited the only surviving part of the fort's wall, the Governor's Gate. And as the students looked up at the limestone arch, Sandra overheard one of them say something to a classmate that made her smile.

"It's a good thing we had that hotdog sale," the child told her friend. "We saved the gate."

That made me laugh.

It will take more than hotdog sales to complete the Upper Fort Garry Heritage Park and Interpretive Centre.

And even more citizen pride.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2013 B2

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