Artists booted out
Frame Arts Warehouse closed after failing inspection
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This article was published 18/08/2015 (2771 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A popular Exchange District art space closed its doors Monday after failing an inspection by fire marshals, forcing at least 40 frustrated artists to vacate their workspaces.
Frame Arts Warehouse, at 318 Ross Ave., has five floors of studio spaces for about 40 artists to do their work and put on events, such as art shows, movie screenings and concerts.
Fire and electrical inspectors showed up Monday morning to shut the power off and serve an immediate vacancy notice. They came by Friday to warn Frame’s co-owners, Travis Cook and Ali Tataryn, it would take place Monday if they couldn’t obtain a proper multi-tenant occupancy permit and get the building up to fire code over the weekend.
Cook and Tataryn said the building’s registered owner, 603562 Manitoba Ltd., only has a single-tenant occupancy permit and Frame was aware it was breaching the permit.
But Frame — which has been renting space on Ross for five years — was operating on an interim basis while the building owners developed plans to convert the building into a mixed-use residential and commercial space in the coming years, Tataryn said.
Cook, whose father is part owner of 603562 Manitoba Ltd., said Frame was in the process of getting everything fixed up to the city’s standards after receiving a notice from the fire marshal in May.
Nobody from 603562 Manitoba Ltd. was available for comment Monday.
The notice from the fire marshal listed three pages worth of items in the building that needed to be up to code, such as ensuring sprinklers were labelled and working, and placing proper signage around the building.
But Cook said the amount of time allotted to get the work done wasn’t clear.
The notice appeared to allow them 30 days to consult with architects and engineers, 45 days to apply for proper occupancy and construction permits and 45 days to get the construction done.
But the tenants weren’t sure if those days overlapped with one another.
When they spoke with their assigned city building inspector on the phone, he assured them “the order shouldn’t be taken literally,” Cook said.
“Our understanding was that as long as we could follow the steps and bring it to code, then we wouldn’t have to vacate it, and we could continue to operate in the building,” Cook said.
In an emailed statement to the Free Press, the City of Winnipeg said, “multiple attempts to work with the building owner to correct deficiencies have not been successful.”
City spokeswoman Michelle Finley said the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, in co-operation with planning, property and development, required the building to be immediately evacuated because there were “considerable building, electrical, mechanical and plumbing alterations and construction performed without required permits.”
The building also “was never approved for use as a residential occupancy,” she said.
Tataryn confirmed there were people living in some of the studios spaces, despite Frame advising against this, and the electrical work in the building was never done with permits.
Alon Weinberg, an activist who rented space inside Frame to go through the archives of Vere H. Scott, a founder of the Manitoba Green Party, said tenants are frustrated with being locked out of the spaces where some of them make their livelihoods.
But he said they aren’t all resentful of the building owners or Frame, whom they knew were trying to get the building up to code for months.
Weinberg said he thinks the city is trying to displace artists.
“It’s a lot a lot of effort for people to move and find another space, and it’s destabilizing… they rely on that community (at Frame) to make great art,” he said.
Weinberg said the Exchange District is full of crumbling buildings, and he wondered why 318 Ross was being targeted.
“It’s an old building. If you want to look at how many of these buildings in the Exchange downtown aren’t up to code, I think the list would be shorter of how many buildings are up to code,” Weinberg said.
The city said it would help the tenants find new studio spaces, if need be.
“As part of the multi-tenant building closure process, the city’s community crisis staff will be assessing the needs of the residents and will assist in relocation,” Finley said.
But Cook said no such help has been offered.
“It seems to me, rather than coming in (Monday), they could have easily cut the power 30 days from now,” he said. “It would do them no harm.”
Cook and Taratyn aren’t sure what prompted the expedited action from the city, but said it may have been the result of a police visit.
There was a small concert last Friday in the space where the Purple Room was formerly located, with about 50 people in attendance, Taratyn said. Police attended the event around midnight, while things were being cleaned up, and warned events in the building were no longer permitted, Tataryn said.
“We’re guessing that any last negotiating possibility went out the door when that (concert) happened,” Tataryn said. “We’re trying to piece together how this went from somewhat reasonable to chaotic.”
Updated on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 9:02 AM CDT: Replaces photo
Updated on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 11:00 AM CDT: Clarifies Ragpickers their McDermot Avenue location after disagreements with the landlord.