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This article was published 13/1/2016 (1377 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
City hall has to do more to protect its inventory of historic buildings.
Brian Bowman said Tuesday’s debate over the heritage designation of three south Main Street buildings showed that some landlords are allowing their buildings to deteriorate.
"Those are spectacular buildings and we obviously want to see them saved," Bowman said, adding however the city also needs new projects in the downtown.
The owners of the three buildings – the Winnipeg Hotel (214 Main), the Fortune Block (232 Main, home to the Times Change(d) bar), and the adjoining MacDonald block (226 Main) – told a civic committee Tuesday that the structures are unsound and on the verge of collapse. They said they never invested in maintaining or improving the buildings because the properties never generated enough revenue necessary to do the work.
However, heritage proponents said the owners are typical of those who allow their buildings to deteriorate to justify their demolition.
The owners have exclusive options to sell their properties to a Toronto development group that wants to demolish the buildings and construct a $35-million, 150-room hotel. The owners opposed the heritage designations.
The committee decided to impose a heritage designation on the buildings, in part because local businessman John Pollard said he has a plan to buy and preserve the Fortune and MacDonald buildings, and is now willing to consider saving the Winnipeg Hotel as well.
Pollard said he was motivated simply to preserve the history associated with the buildings and is less concerned about making a profit on the investment.
Bowman said he was impressed with Pollard’s commitment.
"We need a thousand more John Pollards to come forward to assist us with growth in our downtown and I obviously want to commend him."
Bowman said he’s not aware of the details of the competing proposals for the three properties but said the city can’t afford to lose buildings like those.
"We’ve got an incredible rich history, particularly in the Exchange, with Edwardian-era architecture. It’s something I know attracts people from around the world to see. It’s one of the really nice aspects about our downtown."
Bowman said he wouldn’t rule out enacting tougher regulations requiring landlords to maintain their historic properties.
"If there’s a way we can get ahead, more proactively, to preserve them, I obviously would not rule that out."
Bowman wasn’t specific on what action he would take. "I’d like to see what our existing rules are and determine if they are in effect strong enough – the inference is they are not...
"We want to do what we can to preserve them."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.