CentreVenture Development Corporation is issuing a request for proposals Friday to redevelop the northern portion of the former Public Safety Building and Civic Centre Parkade site, a 53,550 square-foot parcel that represents one of the most significant opportunities for development in the Exchange District.
"It’s a very large site from an urban infill development perspective, and what makes it so unique is that it’s right in the middle of a heritage district," CentreVenture president and CEO Angela Mathieson said Thursday.
"There will never be an opportunity like this again," she said.
In the 19th century, the city’s downtown was one of the key cogs in the entire country’s economic machine, and the site, now dubbed the Market Lands, functioned as its beating heart. As the city developed, the site was used for a time as a public market. From 1965 to 2015, the land housed the Winnipeg Police Service’s brutalist headquarters and the downtown parkade, both of which were demolished this summer.
Now razed, the site is a blank slate, and after years of consultation with the city and the public, the RFP moves the empty rectangle one step nearer to its next stage, one which Mathieson hopes will bring it back to its roots as a community nexus.
While CentreVenture has established guiding principles and a design framework for the site, its future use is open: Mathieson said the aim of the RFP is to not be proscriptive, and to see what savvy developers can dream up for what’s sure to be a highly sought-after piece of land. The successful proponent will enter into a purchase and sale agreement.
"There will never be an opportunity like this again." – CentreVenture president and CEO Angela Mathieson
"From our perspective, it’s most critical that whatever is constructed contributes to the neighbourhood," she said. "We have a very high expectation with respect to the design of the site."
So, too, does the neighbourhood, says David Pensato, the executive director of the Exchange District BIZ. "Obviously, it’s a very key site, right at the heart of the Exchange District," he said.
"I think there’s room for innovative, well-done architecture there that doesn’t pretend to be old," he said, saying the project should complement the area. It’s more important that the future development maintains the "rhythm of the street" and community vibe the area has built up in recent years, he said.
While the north parcel is up for grabs, the 40,462 square-foot south parcel is limited by a historic encumbrance built into its title requiring it to be used by the public. To meet that goal, CentreVenture envisions a structure featuring a 20,000 square-foot centre for art, anchored by the Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art Gallery, along with educational and exhibition spaces, as well as 102 mixed-income residential units above.
Starting Friday, the corporation will also begin soliciting expressions of interest (EOI) to find a potential operator for a public market component on the south parcel. The market and art centre/residential component have completed the design development phase, and construction is anticipated to begin next fall. The two parcels will be bisected by a pedestrian corridor called Market Way.
Mathieson said the RFP was meant to be issued in March, but was delayed by COVID-19. It’s expected that a successful bid for the northern parcel will be awarded Jan. 15. It’s anticipated that the sale of the property will close at some point in 2021, with construction beginning in 2022 at the earliest.
She expects significant responses to both the RFP and EOI from Winnipeg and outside the city.
"For us, it’s really about the best proposal to see this all the way through," she said. "I think (this site) will be a game-changer."
The full RFP and EOI will be available on CentreVenture’s website Friday.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.