The renowned designer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights warns building an indoor water park next to an important cultural institution could turn the area into a "theme-park district."

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This article was published 10/5/2012 (3418 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

New Mexico architect Antoine Predock, designer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights at The Forks, doesn’t like the idea of a water park next door.

LYLE STAFFORD / WINIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

New Mexico architect Antoine Predock, designer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights at The Forks, doesn’t like the idea of a water park next door.

The renowned designer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights warns building an indoor water park next to an important cultural institution could turn the area into a "theme-park district."

Late Thursday, New Mexico architect Antoine Predock sent a letter to Mayor Sam Katz and members of city council to express serious reservations about a proposal to build a 50,000-square-foot water park, hotel and parkade on a gravel parking lot adjacent to the CMHR. The Free Press obtained a copy of the letter, in which Predock urged Katz not to let anyone build on the site without "spirited public debate."

Predock said The Forks is rich with history and amenities and is becoming a hub of the region's cultural district. He said a water park will trivialize this, and there's a danger the area will slowly become a "theme-park" district and cultural institutions will lose their audience.

The architect said he gave careful consideration to the views from the site during the design process, and the views to and from downtown, the Esplanade Riel and Union Station are unobstructed. Predock said a water park could block the view between the museum and downtown.

"It seems to me that this site is destined for a higher civic purpose than a water park," his letter states.

Katz's press secretary, Rhea Yates, said the mayor has recused himself from the water-park vote and therefore has no comment.

CMHR officials were also emailed a copy of the letter, and spokeswoman Angela Cassie said Predock is a passionate architect who has poured his "heart and soul" into the museum's design. However, she said his voice is not the CMHR's voice, and museum officials want to reserve their opinion about the water park until they see what it might look like and how it would integrate into the area.

Cassie said people asked a lot of questions about the museum, and officials want to give their prospective neighbour time to unveil their plans.

"If his perception is that it's somehow threatened or at risk, I can understand why he would feel a need to comment," Cassie said, noting Predock has watched the museum construction section by section via webcam. "He's not someone who designed this and walked away from Winnipeg."

Predock's statement comes two weeks after city council decided to obtain more information before it votes on whether to spend $7 million to subsidize Canalta Hotels' proposed hotel and water-park complex at The Forks.

Councillors were inundated with negative feedback from constituents, who said The Forks isn't the place for a water park and were worried about whether the design would fit in with the area.

Council voted to delay the project to get more specifics on Canalta's site and design plans. Since then, little has been said about whether it still plans to bring the project forward.

Alberta-based hotel chain Canalta wants to build the hotel and water park on a city-owned parking lot known as Parcel Four, which is adjacent to the CMHR.

The company is best known for its rural hotels in Alberta and Saskatchewan and has not built in a larger urban centre. The plan calls for Canalta to purchase the land from the city for $6 million and receive a $7-million grant in exchange for $700,000 worth of admission credits every year for the next 25 years.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge) said members of council should listen to Predock's concerns.

"Obviously, this is a site that requires careful planning and consideration, and ultimately, council should respect the expert opinion of this eminent architect," Gerbasi said via email late Thursday.

Predock has designed a range of museums, universities, performing arts centres, hotels, libraries and science centres around the world. He has been recognized for his ability to design unusual works that respond to their environment and has previously described the CMHR design as symbolic of ice, clouds and stone.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca