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Getting a heritage designation

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HERITAGE listing and official designations that prohibit demolition happen at all levels of government in Canada. In Manitoba, all municipalities but Winnipeg can seek designation under the provincial Heritage Resources Act. Winnipeg follows its own bylaw.

Federal: Ottawa lists heritage sites, buildings and people that are historically significant. The sites and buildings can be public or privately owned and are measured against standards adopted in 2003 for proving historical value. Its own heritage buildings are designated as "classified" or "recognized." After review, launched by a department, the federal Environment minister (responsible for Parks Canada) decides on designation. Crown corporations are not required to follow this process. Ottawa has invested funds in various schemes to encourage heritage preservation, but it is criticized for not doing enough -- it refuses to intervene in the Winnipeg Airports Authority's plans to demolish the James Richardson Airport, although it recognizes the structure as a sterling piece of modernist architecture and a landmark of Canada's post-war economic development. It has put money into heritage buildings over the decades in various programs, such as the time-limited Core Area Initiative. Its current cost-shared program helps pay for the restoration of non-profit heritage buildings -- the Union Bank tower being developed for Red River College has benefited. It was hoped that a $30-million incentive program launched in 2003 for commercial buildings would become permanent, like a national trust, but it ended early, a victim of budget cuts in 2006. The cost-sharing scheme for non-profit buildings was resurrected. "Among G-8 countries, Canada alone lacks a system of funding policies and programs to preserve its historic infrastructure," says Heritage Canada.

Federal: Ottawa lists heritage sites, buildings and people that are historically significant. The sites and buildings can be public or privately owned and are measured against standards adopted in 2003 for proving historical value. Its own heritage buildings are designated as "classified" or "recognized." After review, launched by a department, the federal Environment minister (responsible for Parks Canada) decides on designation. Crown corporations are not required to follow this process. Ottawa has invested funds in various schemes to encourage heritage preservation, but it is criticized for not doing enough -- it refuses to intervene in the Winnipeg Airports Authority's plans to demolish the James Richardson Airport, although it recognizes the structure as a sterling piece of modernist architecture and a landmark of Canada's post-war economic development. It has put money into heritage buildings over the decades in various programs, such as the time-limited Core Area Initiative. Its current cost-shared program helps pay for the restoration of non-profit heritage buildings -- the Union Bank tower being developed for Red River College has benefited. It was hoped that a $30-million incentive program launched in 2003 for commercial buildings would become permanent, like a national trust, but it ended early, a victim of budget cuts in 2006. The cost-sharing scheme for non-profit buildings was resurrected. "Among G-8 countries, Canada alone lacks a system of funding policies and programs to preserve its historic infrastructure," says Heritage Canada.

Municipal: Winnipeg is not covered by the provincial act, mainly because its own Historical Buildings Bylaw was passed much earlier. Under recent changes to the city charter, Winnipeg's city council can now recognize not just buildings but environments, sites and landmarks, which it is expected to do by way of a "survey" when reforms to the process are complete. The city has both an inventory list -- which merely twigs council to an owner's intent to demolish -- and a conservation list. All buildings on the latter list are designated as heritage and, therefore, protected from demolition. Those buildings are also graded for varying levels of protection from renovation of their exterior and interior characteristics. The city offers a property tax credit of up to 50 per cent of the cost of work that improves the assessed value of a building on the city's heritage conservation list. The city relies on its historical buildings committee to watch heritage properties on the inventory and conservation lists, and to recommend to the planning and development committee for or against demolition. Ultimately, city council votes on demolition requests.

The United States: Held out as a model for serious conservation, 30 years ago the U.S. Economic Recovery Tax Act became "the most significant effort to foster historic preservation through national tax policies," says Heritage Canada, recognizing the critical role of tax laws in heritage preservation. It gives a 20 per cent tax credit for rehabilitation of certified historic buildings. The federal advocacy agency says the tax credit has levered more than $25 billion in private investment in historic buildings, much of it in neighbourhoods and commercial districts, and has created more than 60,000 units of low- and moderate-income housing. Half the U.S. states have a state tax credit for rehabilitation that can often be "stacked" with the federal tax credit. Unlike in Canada, where governments work together in spurts, the U.S. tax credit program is permanent and works like a national trust, in effect, asserting the public's interest in maintaining the country's history.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 5, 2011 J5

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