Province seeks proposals to redevelop shuttered downtown housing complex
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A boarded-up downtown Winnipeg housing complex could gain new life — or be demolished — as the province seeks proposals to redevelop the site.
Centre Village, a 25-unit property at 575 Balmoral St. in the Central Park neighbourhood, opened in 2010, but was shuttered in 2022 over design and safety issues.
The property is the subject of a request for expressions of interest, issued by the province April 21. The Manitoba government is looking for “qualified proponents to acquire and redevelop the property… for the development of social and affordable housing.”
The REOI (due May 19) seeks proposals from non-profit groups, Indigenous organizations and other levels of government. Those applying must include at least 25 social housing units in the design, with some units being fully accessible.
Manitoba Housing is not offering any financial assistance on any redevelopment.
Demolition is also on the table.
“We’ve prioritized the demolition and new construction option in order to see if we can add some density to the site,” Manitoba Housing acting director Carolyn Ryan said Thursday. “We recognize there’s a need for more affordable housing in this community, and so if we can get more than 25 units in there, so much the better.”
The Winnipeg property had ambitious beginnings as a family-focused, rent-to-own co-op for newcomers before it became a subsidized housing complex.
Its eye-catching design won architectural awards. However, design concerns and safety issues quickly became clear and the building slowly lost tenants before being boarded-up in January 2022.
In the year since, nearby residents have called on the province to act. They argue leaving it to rot was making the community unsafe and wasting an opportunity for affordable housing.
Ryan said it took 16 months to issue the request because the province wanted to weigh its options before presenting the possibility to the public.
“We’d rather do it right than do it fast, and I realize that’s cold comfort for the neighbours surrounding 575 Balmoral, who’ve had to deal with increased issues on the property,” she said.
“We’ll try and do better going forward from today and this proposal call release, to try and wrap this up sooner rather than later.”
The interest is there, she said, noting Manitoba Housing has fielded over a dozen requests from interested organizations over the last six months.
Colin Neufeld, a partner at the architectural firm behind its unique design, 5468796 Architecture, said while it didn’t meet the needs of tenants at the time, the company would be looking to partner with whoever takes on the property to find suitable tenants for a redevelopment that wouldn’t include demolition.
“It could be revitalized or redeveloped, with less impact on the building, with the right user group,” he said.
The money and time that went into the project, which is less than 15 years old, should be considered, Neufeld said.
“This really isn’t about our architecture firm and a design that we hold dear, it’s about a project that exists in a challenging neighbourhood in the middle of a housing crisis,” he said.
“And to discard 25 housing units in a neighbourhood that is also experiencing challenges and maybe even a crisis, it seems like we can do better than that.”
Centre Village cost $3.7 million, including $1.5 million in grants from the provincial and federal governments.
The layout issues are acknowledged. The floor plans lack functionality and entrances to upper units make it difficult to move furniture in and out of units, the REOI says.
It also notes a structural building assessment in 2019 indicated significant upgrades would be required to resume occupancy.
Neufeld said the firm has already fielded a number of phone calls from restoration contractors who believe it could be brought back to life.
A visit to the building to assess damages is scheduled for next week.
Historically, it’s uncommon to see a building so new be considered for demolition, University of Winnipeg urban geography Prof. Jino Distasio said.
“That’s the sad part. It takes a lot of negative momentum for a housing project to go from brand new, award-winning to problematic to nearly vacant to boarded-up. Normally, when you think about that model, we’re talking about apartments and complexes. Even in a city like Winnipeg, you’re looking at more closer to 100 years than within a decade,” he said.
Central Park is a neighbourhood inhabited with many larger families, including many newcomers.
While the ideal redevelopment would meet that need, considering the lack of affordable housing in Winnipeg, a single-occupancy environment could still exist and thrive, Distasio said.
“We don’t board up new structures. This is why Centre Village has to be reimagined with an entirely new kind of approach and model,” he said.
Among those happy to see movement from the province is area resident Jason Keenan, who previously voiced his concerns to the Free Press about squatters and fires after his calls to Manitoba Housing went unanswered.
“The way that it stands right now, even without a buyer, it’s better off to demolish that building,” he said Thursday.
“The taxpayer money that gets wasted by the fire department and the police calls. Why bother with it?”
If it is redeveloped, Keenan hopes a feasible housing option can be found that fits the needs of downtown.
“The people dealing with this problem right now are dealing with a problem that was created by somebody 15 years ago when they didn’t realize that that building had no right being in this neighbourhood,” he said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, April 27, 2023 5:19 PM CDT: Updates with fresh art
Updated on Thursday, April 27, 2023 5:55 PM CDT: Edits story