A notorious North End bar is set to become a community gathering place.
The North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC) laid out plans for the redevelopment of the Merchants Hotel (541 Selkirk Ave.) at the non-profit agency’s annual general meeting on June 12 at the Ukrainian Labour Temple.
After a complete overhaul, "the Merch" will become Merchants Corner, an educational and student housing complex, home to the University of Winnipeg’s department of urban and inner-city studies and Community Education Development Association’s (CEDA) pathways to education program, as well as Frontier College literacy programs. Merchants Corner will also contain 30 affordable apartment units for students, as well as retail space, a coffee shop and community gathering space.
At the AGM, Hijab Mitra of Winnipeg’s MISTECTURE Architecture and Interiors Inc. displayed and explained the vision for Merchants Corner, which was developed from extensive consultation with community members, U of W and CEDA students and staff, and the local business community and resident associations.
Highlights of the proposed Merchants Corner design included four feather-shaped pillars on the front of the building, as well as a rounded corner at Selkirk and Andrews Street.
"A lot of people had bad memories attached to that corner," said Mitra, referring to the factone didn’t know what lurked around the corner in front of the old Merchants Hotel.
"The concept was ‘turning the corner.’"
NECRC executive director Robert Neufeld said Mitra has been incredibly committed torepresenting the community’s vision in Merchants Corner.
"All of these consultations, all of these voices that went into the architectural drawings are evident in showing how a vision can be created, rooted in the community and blossoming into something beautiful," Neufeld said.
"She really takes (the community’s) images and ideas seriously, and when you can explain that to the community, they feel like they had a part in it. And they did have a part in it."
Merchants Corner is set to cost $12.5 million, with the province expected to kick in $8 million due to the affordable housing component, although that funding is not yet secured. The other $4.5 million will come from a fundraising campaign, officially launched at the AGM.
"It’s a place where we can live, addressing the homelessness that’s happening in our community," said NECRC board member Michael Champagne, kicking off the call for funding.
"The education is critical. Having post-secondary and high school working together in a blended space allows for our children to see that a post-secondary education is not out of their reach. The job we’re going to have in terms of operating the retail components of this social enterprise will create employment and also provide a valuable gathering place.
"What did that used to be? A community gathering place for all the wrong reasons. But, in the future, it will be a community gathering place where we can come together as a community and celebrate that every single one of us has a place in the circle."
In addition to the Merchants Corner announcement, NECRC’s AGM also featured the election of the non-profit’s 2014-2015 board of directors and the presentation of a community service award to Althea "The Bannock Lady" Guiboche, for her efforts to alleviate hunger in the North End.