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Gravel lot will pave way for park

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/5/2015 (703 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Policy is policy, but it shouldn’t be inflexible. The right decision was made Tuesday by the city in approving a temporary gravel parking lot at the site of the future Upper Fort Garry Provincial Park at the corner of Broadway and Main Street.

The city’s planning department had recommended against the move because it violated a policy against surface lots unless they serve mixed-use developments. There were also concerns a precedent might be set for other developers who want to demolish buildings and replace them with lucrative surface parking lots.

The downtown parking lot OK'd Monday will generate much-needed money to help complete the provincial park, the Friends of Upper Fort Garry group says.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The downtown parking lot OK'd Monday will generate much-needed money to help complete the provincial park, the Friends of Upper Fort Garry group says.

The Friends of Upper Fort Garry group is appealing a decision by Winnipeg’s planning department over a surface parking lot.

The Friends of Upper Fort Garry group is appealing a decision by Winnipeg’s planning department over a surface parking lot.

It’s a sound policy, particularly for a city such as Winnipeg, where the demand for dense infill development downtown is weak and surface lots are a cheap and high-yield investment.

The planning department, however, failed to see the big picture in rejecting the request. The Friends of Upper Fort Garry, the non-profit group behind the new park, has no plans to maintain a surface lot forever. It merely wants the revenue of about $150,000 a year to help its beleaguered fundraising efforts.

The approval is for two years only, but some people are concerned it could be extended indefinitely or until the park is completed. That’s a debate for another day, although the group has assured everyone it will not ask for an extension. Its ultimate plan is for an underground parkade for 60 to 70 cars.

It would have been easier and more profitable if the Friends had decided in 2008 to retain an existing city-owned parking lot on the same site until it was closer to identifying a hard date for finishing the park and interpretive centre around the historic gate of the old Hudson’s Bay Co. fort.

Instead, based on an overly optimistic business plan, the group proceeded to level the entire site, presumably in the vain hope the original plans would come off without a hitch. As history repeatedly shows, however, these cultural projects tend to take longer and be more expensive than first envisioned. But their initial optimism shouldn’t be held against them.

The Friends’ fundraising goals have skyrocketed since the original price tag of $12.5 million. It has raised $13 million, but the latest cost estimate is a whopping $28 million.

At this rate, it could be another decade — and more cost increases — before the park is in the bag.

The group is planning a soft opening in June, but there won’t be much to see, other than a few newly planted saplings, boardwalks and some unplanted gardens.

Eventually there will be heritage walls, interpretive plaques and other devices to tell the story of the Hudson’s Bay fort, which played a pivotal role in the development of the Red River colony from 1835, the year it was built, until roughly 1884, when most of it was demolished to straighten Main Street.

The debate over a surface parking lot is small potatoes compared to the significance of the project. The Hudson’s Bay Co. is the oldest continually operating business in Canada and Winnipeg is lucky to have several tangible links to that heritage, including the surviving wall and gate from the 19th-century fort.

It could easily serve as the downtown gateway to The Forks, the Canadian Museum for Human rights and historic St. Boniface, as well as the Manitoba legislature, a walking and learning tour unlike any other.

The approval of a temporary parking lot is unlikely to make a significant difference in the final product, but it should never have been an obstacle to revitalizing what once was the very heart and soul of the community, a place where so much history unfolded and which once united aboriginals and settlers on peaceful terms.

The project has been painfully slow, but then the site had been ignored, forgotten and left to rot for more than 100 years.

Its eventual revival is overdue, even if it comes at the cost of a temporary gravel parking lot.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 at 10:07 AM CDT: Adds photo

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