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No tower... but parking lot OK

Friends of Upper Fort Garry seek city's blessing

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/3/2012 (3010 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Friends of Upper Fort Garry hope to use the southwest corner of the historic site for a temporary surface parking lot to help cover operating expenses.


The Friends of Upper Fort Garry hope to use the southwest corner of the historic site for a temporary surface parking lot to help cover operating expenses.

Four years after dissuading the city from allowing an apartment tower to rise at Winnipeg's birthplace, the Friends of Upper Fort Garry want to use the same land as a temporary surface parking lot.

The non-profit Friends are in the midst of converting most of the downtown city block bounded by Main Street, Broadway, Assiniboine Avenue and Fort Street into a $19-million heritage park. In 2008, the group convinced the city to walk away from a plan to allow an apartment tower to rise on the southwest corner of the block, just outside the former fort's original footprint.

The Friends have amassed approximately $12 million in private and public cash or future funding commitments to complete the heritage park, which would eventually see a heritage wall and an interpretive centre rise alongside Upper Fort Garry's final remaining wall.

Since taking title to the site in 2009, the organization has demolished three buildings: a former city office building along Main Street, the Grain Exchange Curling Club on Fort Street and a Petro-Canada station on Broadway. The demolition of the gas station and the ensuing soil remediation added $475,000 to the project cost, said Jerry Gray, president of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry board.

The group is seeking city permission to operate a surface parking lot at the southwest corner of the property, where the city used to operate a surface lot of its own. The lot would provide Upper Fort Garry with operating revenue for less than two years, Gray said.

"It would last until we build the interpretive centre," he said. "It would go exactly where the city lot used to be."

The Friends also intend to ask the city for property-tax relief, said Gray, adding the province has already provided a significant break on school taxes on the property.

The province has passed legislation to proclaim Upper Fort Garry a provincial heritage park, but this has yet to be enacted. There are no plans for the Manitoba government to acquire the land, but that benefits the Friends by allowing the group to continue to seek federal funding and avoid Manitoba Conservation restrictions on development, Gray said.

A spokesman for the Selinger government said the province remains committed to creating Upper Fort Garry Provincial Heritage Park.

The city, however, appears to be cool to the notion of providing the Friends with either property-tax relief or permission to operate a surface parking lot.

Deepak Joshi, the city's chief operations officer, said the group has made preliminary inquiries about the surface lot but has not requested property-tax relief.

Joshi said the city's policy on surface parking is clear: No more should be allowed downtown. He also said Upper Fort Garry is subject to municipal property taxes as part of the deal the Friends reached with the city in 2008.

"They have the right to come forward and ask for anything, but it is up to the mayor and council to decide," Joshi said.

Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell, who sits on Upper Fort Garry's board, said the city has been extremely helpful over the past three years. She said she is aware of the optics of the heritage group operating a surface lot but noted it would be temporary.

"Perception is everything," Tugwell acknowledged. "We're just looking for ways to ease the (financial) pain a little bit."

Over the past two years, a city moratorium on downtown surface parking has not been applied consistently. In late 2010, the city denied a request by the Chinatown Development Corp. to demolish the 129-year-old Shanghai restaurant building on King Street to make way for temporary surface parking.

But in 2011, the city allowed Yoga Public to demolish the 89-year-old Orpheum Theatre on Fort Street and create a permanent pay lot.

The Upper Fort Garry site, meanwhile, has had many uses since the former fort was dismantled in 1888. In addition to serving as surface parking, the site has housed a lacrosse club, an athletic stadium, Imperial Oil's regional headquarters, Metro Winnipeg's pre-Unicity headquarters and a city public works building.

The city declared its portion of land surplus in 2006 and decided the following year to sell the southwest portion of the site to Crystal Developers, which wanted to build an apartment tower.

That plan was abandoned in 2008 after a successful lobbying effort by the Friends, who met the terms of a city deadline to raise $10 million to build what was then a $12.5-million project.

The province paid Petro-Canada $1 million to purchase the gas station on Broadway in a deal that called for the company to donate $1.35 million back to the Upper Fort Garry project.

Aside from one of the fort's walls, the sole remaining structure on the block is the Manitoba Club, built in 1905.



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