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This article was published 13/6/2015 (686 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A 21-storey condo tower is under construction on Hargrave Street, a 14-storey student residence has started on Colony Street and a 25-storey apartment building is nearing completion on Assiniboine Avenue.
While these new downtown structures do not constitute a boom, they're welcome in a city where inner-city revitalization has tended to be more horizontal than vertical in recent decades.
The Hargrave Street project is Glasshouse Skylofts, which Toronto developer Urban Capital is building alongside the Longboat/Artis Centrepoint complex north of Portage Avenue. The Colony Street tower is a long-delayed University of Winnipeg project, while Heritage Landing on Assiniboine Avenue represents the fruition of Crystal Developers' initial plan to build apartments on Fort Street, alongside what's now Upper Fort Garry Provincial Heritage Park.
Whether downtown can sustain this modest pace of redevelopment depends on the demand for more housing and commercial space, the deft application of government subsidies and the risk tolerance of private developers.
There remains a number of question marks surrounding important parcels of land, vacant landmarks and projects already under some stage of development. Here's what's happening with a few of the more high-profile properties:
THE REAL ESTATE: The former Winnipeg Tribune site -- a surface-parking lot at the northeast corner of Graham Avenue and Smith Street -- plus the St. Regis Hotel to the north.
THE LAND ASSEMBLY: Mady Development Corp. of Windsor, Ont., and Toronto's Fortress Real Developments paid a reported $9 million to acquire the 1.1-acre former Trib site from Winnipeg's Sabino Tummillo and John Garcea in 2013. In 2014, Fortress reached a deal to buy the St. Regis Hotel from CentreVenture for $4 million, aided by a $3-million mortgage. The latter deal, arranged by former CentreVenture president and CEO Ross McGowan, closed this May. CentreVenture purchased the St. Regis in 2012 and spent $7.7 million on the purchase plus carrying costs.
THE PLAN: Fortress plans to build what it describes as the tallest tower between Toronto and Calgary on the Trib site, with residential housing on most floors and a grocery store at street level. It also plans to build a parkade on the St. Regis Hotel site. If work on the latter does not commence by April 2017, the hotel will revert to CentreVenture.
PROSPECTS: Fortress and Mady raised about $10 million for the project through an initial bond offering. A subsequent $30-million bond offering was issued in 2014. Following the latter offering, a Vancouver analyst suggested they must secure $47 million in equity before they can secure the financing required to allow the project to proceed. In early 2015, Mady entered bankruptcy protection, leaving Fortress without a partner. The firm nonetheless insists the tower is going ahead. As of 2014, Fortress had started construction on 15 out of 31 projects it announced. No work has started on SkyCity Centre, though condo sales are planned.
True North Square
THE REAL ESTATE: A surface lot owned by Manitoba Public Insurance west of the Cityplace mall, the empty lot once occupied by the Carlton Inn to the west and a wee chunk of land northwest of St. Mary's Cathedral.
THE LAND ASSEMBLY: Winnipeg's True North Sports & Entertainment put together this project in chunks, winning the right to develop the MPI lot in 2012 and signing an option to buy the former Carlton Inn site from CentreVenture in 2014. That deal is proceeding, pending an independent valuation of the land. CentreVenture purchased the Carlton Inn in 2012 for $6.6 million and spent additional funds on demolition.
THE PLAN: True North intends to build two towers and a public square on the MPI lot and a third on the Carlton Inn site. The entire complex would include a hotel (on the MPI lot), residential housing, office space and retail stores, all connected to the RBC Convention Centre and Cityplace through skywalks. The scale of the office tower planned for the Carlton Inn site may hinge upon whether Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries chooses True North Square as the location for its new downtown headquarters.
PROSPECTS: Winnipeg's Chipman family has a proven track record when it comes to downtown development, as the Centrepoint complex on Portage Avenue and the MTS Centre demonstrate. But the $400-million redevelopment of two large downtown tracts must be considered very ambitious, even for the people who brought NHL hockey back to Winnipeg.
The Bay downtown
THE REAL ESTATE: The Hudson's Bay Co.'s six-storey downtown Winnipeg landmark, completed at the southeast corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.
THE ISSUE: Thanks to the decades-long decline in the downtown Winnipeg retail market, the Bay only uses three floors of the structure. There was a successful Zellers store in the basement level before Target made its doomed foray into Canada and closed down the budget retailer. The Bay is reputedly interested in continuing to operate on one or two floors within the building, provided a private or public partner emerges to redevelop up to 480,000 square feet of space.
PROSPECTS: While a provincial study about the Bay's redevelopment remains under wraps, development-industry sources say it's not feasible to convert the building into residential housing, due to the cost of cutting an enormous skylight into the centre. Redevelopment into office space is reputed to be cheaper, at tens of millions of dollars. The Bay has made a pitch to house the Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries headquarters and is believed to be a finalist in the Crown corporation's deliberations. Other logical office-space tenants at a redeveloped Bay include two Winnipeg-based companies with national headquarters located close by: Investors Group has reputedly reached capacity at its tower on Portage Avenue and Colony Street, while Great-West Life Assurance is outgrowing its large Osborne Street campus. Expect any private redevelopment to come along with a request for government help, however.
The Public Safety Building
THE REAL ESTATE: The existing headquarters for the Winnipeg Police Service, on Princess Street at William Avenue.
THE ISSUE: Late this year, the police intend to begin moving into a new headquarters on Smith Street and leave behind a six-storey structure with a crumbling, Tyndall-stone facade. While the exterior fix will be easier when the building is empty -- and less onerous from a security perspective, with the police no longer a tenant -- the structure cannot be sold to a private developer. That's because of a caveat placed upon the land in 1875 by the descendents of Red River Colony settler Alexander Ross, who handed the parcel over to the new City of Winnipeg under the condition it retain a public use.
PROSPECTS: The city could roll the dice and try to sell the PSB to a private developer, hoping none of Ross's descendents objects. It may also choose to move city offices into the building, though such a move is complicated by decisions to renew long-term city leases at nearby heritage buildings; these deals were criticized by the 2014 real estate audit. There is a plan for city council to move in on a temporary basis while 510 Main St. undergoes repairs. In the long term, the most logical public occupant would be Red River College, whose downtown campus already envelops the PSB. The college, however, is still paying for the redevelopment of the Union Bank Tower on Main Street and other developments.
James Avenue Pumping Station
THE REAL ESTATE: Built in 1906, the James Avenue High-Pressure Pumping Station helped fight fires in Winnipeg for 80 years, first using Red River water and then Shoal Lake water after the Winnipeg Aqueduct was built in 1919. It was shuttered in 1986. It still encloses massive gears and other impressive machinery that offer a rare glimpse at industrial design from 109 years ago.
THE ISSUE: Efforts to redevelop the site while preserving the machinery within the building have faltered. The steampunk machinery takes up a lot of space and poses a safety hazard if it isn't closed off.
PROSPECTS: Downtown development agency CentreVenture, which infamously sold the pumping station and then bought it back at a loss, has entertained no fewer than 14 serious proposals for its redevelopment, including a now-dead plan to construct a residential tower above it. CentreVenture president and CEO Angela Mathieson said her agency is looking at a new redevelopment proposal, but it's only in the early stages.