WORK will soon get underway on what is believed to be the first rental-apartment complex ever built within the city’s Exchange District National Historic Site.

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WORK will soon get underway on what is believed to be the first rental-apartment complex ever built within the city’s Exchange District National Historic Site.

Retired Winnipeg photographer-turned-developer Albert Cheung plans to construct a new six-storey, 64 or 65-unit apartment complex on a surface parking lot he owns at the end of Market Avenue in the East Exchange District.

Work on the $13.5-million project, which will be called 98 Market, is expected to begin in March and should be completed by September of next year, Cheung said in an interview Thursday.

CentureVenture Development Corp.’s development manager, Loretta Martin, said although a number of multi-family complexes have been built in recent years on Waterfront Drive, they’re condominiums, not rental apartments. And the two H2O apartment complexes at the north end of Waterfront are outside the boundaries of the historical site, which covers a 20-block area containing about 150 heritage buildings.

Cheung’s project is one of the first approved under the new city-and-province-funded Live Downtown Rental Development Program. The aim of the program, which was launched in December 2014, is to stimulate the construction of 750 to 900 rental apartments in the downtown by offering property owners a rebate on any increase in the city and provincial property taxes that result from the redevelopment of their properties.

Martin said although six projects were approved during the program’s first intake period, which closed last February, three of them aren’t ready to proceed. So they’ll become part of the second intake period, which begins today and ends in September.

CentreVenture president and CEO Angela Mathieson said the program’s first proposal call resulted in an uptake of nearly 200 rental units. It’s hoped the second one will produce at least 500 more.

The Live Downtown program, which is overseen by CentreVenture, replaces the former city-provincial Downtown Residential Development Grant Program, which provided $40 million in grants and tax incentives to downtown apartment and condominium developers.

Although that program targeted both rental apartments and condos, the new program is geared exclusively to rental apartments because there is still a demand for more of those types of units in the downtown, Mathieson said.

Although the primary objective of the program is to increase the number of rental apartments in the downtown, a secondary objective is to facilitate the redevelopment of some of the area’s nearly 140 surface parking lots.

Developer Albert Cheung and CentreVenture president and CEO Angela Mathieson discuss plans.


Developer Albert Cheung and CentreVenture president and CEO Angela Mathieson discuss plans.

"Over the next several months, our team will be reaching out, meeting with surface parking lot owners, to let them know about the benefits of the program," Mathieson said. "We would like to see more surface parking lots turned into vibrant new places for people to live downtown."

Cheung has owned his surface parking lot and an adjoining one-storey building since 1983. He spent about $1 million upgrading the existing building and turning it into office space. But he couldn’t have built the apartment block without the help of the Live Downtown program.

"I wanted to redevelop it (the parking lot) for a very long time, but the economics weren’t there," he explained.

But thanks to the 18 years of tax rebates he will receive under the new program, he can now afford to proceed, he said.

Under the Live Downtown program, property owners are eligible to receive property tax credits for a minimum of 12 years.

But that number can go as high as 20 years if they build within targeted areas within the downtown, build on surface parking lots and include covered parking spaces in their development.

The downtown areas being targeted are the East Exchange District and the area south of Portage Avenue that isn’t within the sports, entertainment and hospitality district (SHED), which is covered by a separate tax-increment financing program.

To qualify for the rebates, the projects must also include at least five rental units and devote 80 per cent of their building’s space to residential units.

For the first five years, at least 10 per cent of the apartments also must be set aside as affordable housing units, in which rents are set at median market rental rates as defined by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

For 2016, the median monthly market rents range from $579 for a studio or bachelor suite, to $1,425 for an apartment with four or more bedrooms.

Mathieson said downtown Winnipeg is undergoing an incredible renaissance due in large part to its growing residential population, which now stands at more than 16,000 people.

"Live Downtown and previous housing incentive programs, supported by our government partners, have been absolutely critical to the downtown housing industry and the goals of our corporation," she said.