A pair of 136-year-old downtown buildings may avoid a date with a wrecking ball thanks to a local businessman.

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A pair of 136-year-old downtown buildings may avoid a date with a wrecking ball thanks to a local businessman.

John Pollard, co-CEO of Pollard Banknote Ltd., a Winnipeg-based lottery ticket manufacturer, put in an offer Thursday afternoon to buy the MacDonald Building at 226 Main Street.

Two months ago, he submitted an offer to purchase the Fortune Building next door.

He has yet to hear back on either offer but he believes he is offering fair market value.

Both buildings, along with the nearby Winnipeg Hotel, have fallen into disrepair, spurring talk of demolition and redevelopment.

John Scoles, owner of the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, which has occupied the first floor of the 10,000-square-foot Fortune Building for nearly 30 years, appreciates having somebody of Pollard’s stature in his corner.

"I’ve been fighting for this thing to happen for years but I can’t do it on my own," he said.

Pollard said he has been investigating the possibility of restoring a downtown heritage building for a couple of years purely out of personal interest and civic pride.

"I’m interested in downtown revival. The Fortune is a beautiful, historic old building that I would love to have the chance to restore and it would help save (Scoles’) business. Like the building, Times Change(d) is worth saving. We need more businesses like that. It’s a super-iconic music venue," he said.

"I would like to buy both buildings. They’re almost like one building."

Pollard isn’t releasing the dollar amount of his offers but he estimated it would likely cost between $1 million and $2 million to overhaul the Fortune Building and a similar amount for the MacDonald Building.

"You can’t do much for less than $100 per square foot. We’re hoping it works out to be a decent investment," he said.

“I’ve been fighting for this thing to happen for years but I can’t do it on my own,” says John Scoles, owner of the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, which occupies the first floor of the Fortune Building. (Phil Hossack - Winnipeg Free Press)

“I’ve been fighting for this thing to happen for years but I can’t do it on my own,” says John Scoles, owner of the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, which occupies the first floor of the Fortune Building. (Phil Hossack - Winnipeg Free Press)

Pollard said the Winnipeg Hotel would be an interesting project as well.

"If (buying it) was the only way that we could get (the other two deals) done, we could consider that," he said.

The City of Winnipeg’s standing policy committee on property development, heritage and downtown development, will meet next week to decide whether to put all three properties on its list of historical resources, which could protect them from demolition.

Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, said she believes there are many reasons why the trio deserves to be saved.

"They’re very historical with tonnes of history. They were built during the land boom in 1881. These buildings are the last of that era on Main Street," she said.

The Fortune Building, in particular, is noteworthy because its original owner, Mark Fortune, was one of 12 Winnipeggers to drown when the Titanic sunk in 1912.

Tugwell said she’s tired of hearing that proponents of buildings such as these are only looking to save them because they’re old.

"We have a criteria that we follow. We look at the architectural significance and the architect. If a particular architect did 12 buildings in the city and only one is left, that goes a long way towards (fighting to keep it)," she said.

Tugwell also wanted to dispel any idea that it’s too expensive to refurbish buildings that have been neglected for decades.

The owners of the Fortune Building, George and Shirley Landes, have declined comment pending the outcome of the meeting.

Scoles said he doesn’t want anybody to get the impression that there is any animosity between his group and the owners.

"It’s not hostile in any way."

Scoles said should Pollard be successful, the hope would be to maintain the current tenants on the main floor, restore the exterior, the roof, the mechanical and the windows and then work on signing tenants for the upper two floors, which are currently vacant.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca