Downtown Commons: the sequel

University of Winnipeg spearheads new mixed-income residential project


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The University of Winnipeg is hoping to duplicate the success of the city’s first truly mixed residential complex — the 102-unit Downtown Commons — by building another one less than a block away.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/08/2017 (1878 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The University of Winnipeg is hoping to duplicate the success of the city’s first truly mixed residential complex — the 102-unit Downtown Commons — by building another one less than a block away.

The proposed new tower would be similar in size to the original 14-storey, $30-million tower and would be built on property the university recently acquired at the corner of St. Mary Avenue and Good Street.

The project is contingent upon the university acquiring financing. The plan is to have the new tower developed by a new non-profit entity — UWCRC 2.0 — which the university created to be a sister organization to its University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corp.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Nick Bockstael (from left), Sherman Kreiner, George Cibinel and Tim Williams at the corner of St. Mary Avenue and Good Street, where they’re involved in a plan to build a followup to the nearby Downtown Common complex.

The renewal corporation developed the Downtown Commons and was involved in most of the more than $200 million in infrastructure projects the U of W has undertaken during the past 12 years.

Managing director Sherman Kreiner said until this year the focus has been on meeting the U of W’s infrastructure needs. Now that those needs have mostly been met, the university wants to take the skills and expertise it has gained and assist other organizations that have sustainable infrastructure projects they want to undertake, but do not have the expertise to do it on their own.

“We thought, ‘what do we do with what we’ve created here in terms of competency and experience?’ I think there’s a value to it for the community and a value to it for the university,” Kreiner said.

“So we created another not-for-profit development organization (UWCRC 2.0) whose mandate is to do other value-driven, sustainable development, either on our own or with other partners.”

The new entity would also provide a new stream of revenue for the university, he said.

Kreiner said the renewal corporation “cut its teeth” working with outside developers when it partnered with community groups to convert the former Merchants Hotel on Selkirk Avenue into a community learning hub and social enterprise café. The project included the construction of 30 units of subsidized student housing.

“That (project) also led us to understand that these skills and experiences and competencies that we have could be valuable in the community,” he said.

The new entity’s first outside project involves partnering with Brandon University on a mixed-use and residential development in downtown Brandon. The development likely will include a residential component patterned after the U of W’s Downtown Commons.

The Downtown Commons building at 320 Colony St. includes 102 premium market, affordable and rent-geared-to-income suites. The units range in size from bachelor to three-bedroom suites, and the tenants include students, seniors, Indigenous families, immigrant families, Syrian refugee families and professionals.

Kreiner said the complex, which opened last year, is believed to be unique in Canada for offering high-quality, downtown rental housing for people from a variety of backgrounds and financial circumstances.

“It was fully occupied within three months… and we have a pretty significant waiting list, which is why we feel this could be a replicable model for the neighbourhood. We haven’t fully tapped the demand (for that type of housing).”

Stefano Grande, CEO of the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone, said another complex like the Downtown Commons would be a welcome addition downtown.

“There is definitely a need for good, affordable housing in our city, never mind downtown,” Grande said, adding the fact the Downtown Commons was fully occupied within three months and has an extensive waiting list is proof of that.

He said it’s encouraging to see the U of W launching a new entity that can share its expertise in building sustainable communities.

“I think they’ve discovered that the private sector will not do not-for-profit housing because it’s such a challenge. The numbers don’t work,” he said. “So there is demand, and it’s a very specialized skill. It seems the university developed their capability, and the fact that it is now bringing that into the community and helping (other organizations) is wonderful.”

Kreiner said UWCRC 2.0 plans to work with other post-secondary organizations and community groups. It’s already working with a number of First Nations groups in Winnipeg and on reserves. It’s getting inquiries from out-of-province universities interested in copying the venture.

“I think we’ll have a series of announcements about this over the next six months or so” he said.

Kreiner said once financing is secure, the plan is to demolish the one-storey building at 505 St. Mary Ave. and begin foundation work this winter. The hope is to have the tower ready for late summer or early fall 2019.

Kreiner and Jeremy Read, chief operating officer of the renewal corporation, said they’re exploring the possibility of including suites for artists in the tower. They said that would tie in nicely with the area, which includes the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the proposed Inuit Art Centre.

Kreiner said there were two commercial tenants in the building at 505 St. Mary Ave. Dessert Sinsations has moved out, but the Perth’s dry-cleaning outlet plans to remain until demolition begins.

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