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Violence at now-closed Exchange nightclub behind push for bylaw change

Councillor wants residents to have a say before liquor-serving establishments get permits

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/1/2020 (264 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A notorious Exchange District bar that was the site of a deadly shooting last fall is prompting a city councillor to call for residents to have a say on which establishments set up shop in their neighbourhoods.

Point Douglas Coun. Vivian Santos asked the property and development, heritage and downtown development committee Monday to amend a bylaw to require large establishments that serve liquor — such as bars, restaurants, nightclubs and billiard halls — to get written approval from their respective community committees before being granted occupancy permits.

Point Douglas Coun. Vivian Santos asked the property and development, heritage and downtown development committee to amend a bylaw to require large establishments that serve liquor to get written approval from their respective community committees before being granted occupancy permits. (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

Point Douglas Coun. Vivian Santos asked the property and development, heritage and downtown development committee to amend a bylaw to require large establishments that serve liquor to get written approval from their respective community committees before being granted occupancy permits. (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

The amendment would apply to local watering holes where footprints are more than 3,000 square feet, or that can serve up 200 or more patrons at a time.

Santos said her suggestion stems from problems encountered at 291 Bannatyne Ave. — a building that’s seen a revolving door of restaurants, bars and lounges over the years, most recently operating as Citizen Nightclub.

A man was fatally shot there Nov. 2. Three men were stabbed outside in August 2018. And there have been other incidents.

Citizen's liquor licence was first suspended by the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba and then cancelled late in 2019. Santos said the space is now up for sale.

"With this specific location, it's been about a decade's worth of unfortunate incidences. I don't know if it's because of the location or because it's closer to residences, whereas some of the other (nightclub) locations are on the main drag on Main Street," the councillor said.

Santos said she’s heard pitches about other possible uses for the space, such as a grocery store or another restaurant, which she would support. Residents aren’t opposed to seeing another nightclub set up either, she said.

"The residents are not saying no. Just be a good business owner. Be a good manager, take care of your patrons, right?" she said. "That's all we're asking for. It's not difficult."

Neighbour Steve Porter said the owner of the building has often changed hands, but management and staff usually stay the same. (Neither the owner nor management responded to requests for comment Monday.)

Having lived in the area for about 16 years, Porter said he’s become accustomed to noise and bustle in the Exchange District and largely enjoys it — save for "a few bad actors," who aren’t adapting "to the new reality that they are now in a neighbourhood that has a fairly high contingent of residencies," he said.

Porter said he supported Santos’s motion, which would require new would-be business owners to make their pitch to residents.

"I feel it's a relatively small step that will help businesses and residents learn to co-exist. And if you're a responsible business owner, this amendment really should not worry you, should not scare you at all," he said.

“The residents are not saying no. Just be a good business owner. Be a good manager, take care of your patrons, right? That's all we're asking for. It's not difficult." – Vivian Santos, Point Douglas Councillor

Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) supported the motion, but said she’s also concerned — after experiencing a shooting in her own ward at Bar Italia in May 2018 — about how smaller bars and lounges are monitored.

Rollins said she supports the discussion, but thinks the amendment may be "addressing a symptom, not necessarily the problem."

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), who chairs the property and development committee, noted there are legal considerations as well and community committees may not be able to override zoning protocols in their areas.

Santos's motion was supported unanimously by the property and development committee and the public service was tasked with coming back with a verbal report in 60 days, responding to her concerns.

The Point Douglas councillor said she’s hearing from residents living near Bannatyne they fear for their safety, after having seen bullets ricochet through their businesses’ and neighbours’ windows.

Santos reported a resident has recently filed a complaint with the Manitoba Ombudsman’s office about lack of bylaw enforcement from the LGCA. The resident was not available for an interview Monday.

Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said she supports the discussion  — after experiencing a shooting in her own ward at Bar Italia in May 2018 — but thinks the amendment may be "addressing a symptom, not necessarily the problem." (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said she supports the discussion — after experiencing a shooting in her own ward at Bar Italia in May 2018 — but thinks the amendment may be "addressing a symptom, not necessarily the problem." (Ruth Bonneville / Free Press files)

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson said the authority said the regulator wasn’t aware of the possible ombudsman complaint.

Spokesperson Kaylee Maslowsky said the LGCA has been working with Citizen Nightclub’s owners, community residents, Santos and the Winnipeg Police Service since summer 2018 "to assist in finding a solution to allegations of disorderly conduct and noise."

"The LGCA recognizes that the challenge of mixed-use neighbourhoods is not unique to the Exchange or to Winnipeg," Maslowsky said.

"Traffic and pedestrian disturbances may be associated with the area’s central location and designation as an entertainment hub, and not solely as a result of a single licensed premises."

Santos said so far, the LGCA’s enforcement has been lacking and the agency may require more resources or reallocation of resources to do its job properly.

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

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