Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/1/2009 (3093 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
BLIGHT may be too strong a word, but as it stands — incomplete, yet structurally almost there — the new office and clinic building of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority does little for the streetscape on Main Street at Logan Avenue. The area will get a boost with the influx of the WRHA’s 200-plus administrative and health staff, but the building itself is uninspired and disappointing.
The development was unveiled at a public press conference last March as an artist's rendering with street setbacks to the south and tucked next to commercial storefronts on the north. What has appeared, though, has strayed conspicuously from that design: The airy setback along Logan is gone, and the four-storey building shoulders hard up to the sidewalks; an imposing parkade of almost equal height has emerged prominently on the north side. The city says it cannot say much about why the changes occurred, but that they were approved by an outside advisory committee made in accordance with city bylaws. The Logan Avenue setback was a concern from a public safety perspective, a city official says.
The parkade, initially planned to be on top of and behind commercial space at the north side, was altered to accommodate the ramps required, according to CentreVenture, the downtown development agency that promoted the Main Street location to the WRHA. Ross McGowan says people will be more impressed with the parkade's facade when it is complete, finished with cladding, glass and awning.
Understandably, hundreds of office workers will need sufficient parking nearby, particularly as some who work in the building's community health clinic will be working late. Yet other cities, like Calgary, have shown how parkades can fulfil that function while appearing to be a natural part of the streetscape. It involves expense, but it would be the reasonable trade-off for the demolition of the quaint but dilapidated heritage buildings that nonetheless spoke of the street's storied history. A parkade too large for a site pushes the human element out of the way.
For all its travails, Main Street has never stopped being a place where people live, as well as work and the appearance of a behemoth parkade treats that as an afterthought. Many Winnipeggers, including commercial and residential neighbours, are dismayed by the project that was once extolled as a catalyst in the stretch's slow rebirth. Others are convinced it will be all good, that the mere presence of hundreds more people will naturally attract other businesses to set up shop.
That the WRHA's new digs are not being uniformly welcomed speaks to the prevailing expectations for a street this city sorely wants to see returned to bygone glory. Development must proceed carefully, with good public notice. Good design blends function and form in an elegant fit that appeals to its tenants and its neighbours. The WRHA building design was presented as one thing and finished as another, a poor way to make those who live on, near and with Main Street feel as if they can belong to its future.