A major rehabilitation was exactly what the doctor ordered for Winnipeg’s Medical Arts Building.
A recent multimillion-dollar retrofit has completely transformed the 15-storey former office building on Kennedy Street into 104 high-quality apartment units, with more than 14,000 square feet of ground-level commercial space, along with a fitness centre, yoga room and social lounge for residents. The renovation, led by local firm Number TEN Architectural Group, included a complete upgrade of the 1970s-built structure to meet modern code requirements, including the elevators, the heating and cooling systems, the parkade and more, and took more than two years to complete.
The expensive and complicated cosmetic and reconstructive surgery paid off earlier this month: the building began leasing, and in recognition of the revitalization of the property, it was given the title of Renovation of the Year by the Canadian Federation of Apartment Associations.
"We were really pleased to win this award," said Colleen Krempulec, an executive at Hazelview Investments, which bought the building in 2017 for $15.5 million when the company was known as Timbercreek Asset Management. "It does in some way remind us of the opportunity we saw here many years ago, and it feels like we’re right at the finish line. People will soon call the Arts Residences home."
Constructed in 1974, the building at 233 Kennedy St. was a focal point of the local medical and dental community, with as many as 200 professionals practising there, along with two pharmacies and two optical dispensaries. At the time, its 160,000 square feet made it the largest medical office complex in the city.
The current building replaced the original Medical Arts Building, built in 1922 at the intersection of Graham and Kennedy streets. That building was the first to be erected and controlled by members of the medical profession in North America, owned by a co-operative called the Medical Arts Building Ltd. (MABL). Beginning in 1988, the MABL became a publicly traded entity, with all shares held by doctors operating in the building.
In 2005, the building became privately owned, and the number of doctors working in the building steadily decreased. In 2002, there were 150 tenants, and by 2018, after a few changes of ownership and continual frustration with their uncertain tenancy, fewer than 30 remained.
The building was once slated to become the headquarters for Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, with the Crown corporation buying it for $7.9 million in 2015 under the leadership of the NDP government. After the Progressive Conservatives were elected in 2016, that decision was reviewed and nixed by a newly installed board of directors, and the building was sold to Timbercreek the following year. By July 2019, with renovations several months underway, only two doctors remained as tenants, with over 20 either retiring or forced to move their practices elsewhere, some after decades on Kennedy Street.
"At the time of the acquisition, it was an underutilized medical office building right downtown," said Krempulec, who wouldn’t say how much money was spent on the renovation, but did say it was in the "multi, multi, multi" million-dollar range. That’s at least three multis for those keeping track at home.
Now, she hopes that the apartments, with one-bedroom units starting at $1,530 and two-bed suites as high as $2,050, will start to fill up and give the building a new jolt of life.
Project architect Trent Piazzoni said the renovation was a complicated one that required phasing and reimagining a building for a purpose vastly different than its built intent, as well as a total upgrade of all mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems. But for whatever challenges existed with the project and working within an existing shell, he and Number TEN partner Dave Lalama agreed that the value and condition of the existing structure was a critical component in completing a successful renovation.
"It’s a great example of building in a very sustainable and responsible way, with much lower impact on the environment and the climate," said Lalama. He said it’s a credit to the developer for looking at the building, doing due diligence and seeing its potential for reuse. With expanded windows and a reconfigured floor plan, young professionals will be able to eat, sleep, and watch television where Dr. Lyle Stronger once practised cardiology or pediatric dentist R.Y. Cantin gave out toothbrushes.
"It’s a totally different experience there now," laughed Lalama, who used to go to the Medical Arts Building to see his ophthalmologist.
And while the building will no longer be medical, Krempulec said there will be no shortage of art.
Each of the 13 residential floors will have their hallways decorated by custom artwork representing the 13 moons of the Ojibwe lunar calendar, with creative direction by Oji-Cree artist Jordan Stranger. Stranger worked with mural artist Senkoe and local graphic designer Jonato Dalayoan to create vibrant artworks to adorn the walls and the common spaces.
"Our intention is to continue to seek out and work with local artists and seek out their work," Krempulec said. One plan is for an exterior sign at street level to feature rotating work by local artists, and another is to commission a large mural for one of the exterior walls.
With the opening of the Arts Residences, Hazelview now manages seven buildings in Winnipeg, six of which are in the downtown area. The company’s investments division manages more than $9.7 billion in global real estate assets.
Rental units are available for lease, and the company is seeking out value-adding commercial tenants, said Krempulec.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.