It was born in 1931 as the Uptown Theatre, then reborn as a bowling alley in 1960.
But by 2021, the former home of the Academy Uptown Lanes in River Heights will have a new identity as the Uptown Lofts. Workers are currently replacing the building’s interior with a mixed-use development that will include 23 apartment units, some office space, and two street-level commercial units.
The building was acquired by Globe Capital Management in 1989, said president and CEO Richard Morantz. The company didn’t plan to redevelop the structure at the time, and simply considered it a real estate investment, Morantz said.
Globe kept the bowling alley as a tenant until 2018, when the two parties were unable to negotiate a new lease. Bowling alley owner Todd Britton announced the lanes would vacate 394 Academy Rd. amid increasing property values, and Academy Lanes rebranded as Uptown Alley and moved to St. Matthews Avenue.
"We made the decision at that point to redevelop the property, to try and make it into something that we felt would be commensurate with the development in the neighbourhood, and meet community needs," said Morantz, who grew up in River Heights.
"There’s a lot of people who have lived there in that community for 40 years, and they’re looking for a multi-family (residential) option, and they are really quite limited in that neighbourhood. So we thought putting some upscale apartments in there, that would generate some interest."
Globe hired Landmark Planning and Design to run open houses and manage public engagement for the project.
"It wasn’t like we had no opposition, there was some opposition when the final hearing came," said Morantz. "But we were very pleased that the neighbourhood really seemed to buy into the concept."
As with so many development projects in Winnipeg, key neighbourhood concerns included parking and traffic flow, said Ron Penner, chief operating officer of sister company Globe Property Management.
"Our pitch has been, there were 100,000 or so individuals coming to the bowling alley on an annual basis, and an apartment complex is certainly going to drive less traffic than that," said Penner. "So everything we’re doing should create less traffic."
The completed development will include about 45 parking stalls, and Globe aims to finish the project by March 2021. The renovated three-storey structure will have twelve apartment units on the top floor, seven on the second floor and four on the main floor. Most of the apartments will be two-bedroom units.
The main floor will feature two new commercial units with entrances on Academy Road, both measuring more than 2,000 square feet. The second floor will include office space that could be configured to different sizes.
"What we’re interested to see, something that hasn’t really caught fire in Winnipeg yet but you do see it in other major centres, is they’ll do developments with a work-live option," said Morantz.
"It can be appealing to single-practitioner architects, engineers, lawyers (who), they want to have a nice apartment to live in, and then in the morning when they go into their office, they just walk across the hallway or just open a door, and you’re in your office."
The $10-million redevelopment project will clean up and preserve the facade of the building, which is designated as a municipal historic site. Although the interior will be new, Globe plans to preserve some of the theatre’s original plasterwork in the vestibule.
Morantz believes the project will bring a much-needed service to the area.
"It’s going to be upscale apartments that people in the neighbourhood can be very proud of, and move into, or maybe their children will move into and remain close," he said.
Throughout the multi-year process of getting the development approved, Morantz said he heard many River Heights residents express their pride in their neighbourhood and its historic landmark.
"For me, personally, this is an important thing because I did grow up in River Heights, and I feel very close to that neighbourhood. And I want this to be something that I can be proud of and the community can be proud of."
Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.
Updated on Monday, March 9, 2020 at 10:49 AM CDT: corrects typo