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This article was published 20/8/2010 (3350 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 20/8/2010 (3350 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The University of Winnipeg is poised to take over two vacant floors in the downtown Bay building and transform them into a national aboriginal centre focusing on research and cultural issues.
U of W spokesman Dan Hurley confirmed that Hudson's Bay governor and chief executive officer Richard Baker offered the building's two vacant floors to university president Lloyd Axworthy within the last two weeks, adding that the space is the university's for the asking.
"The Hudson's Bay Company has approached the university to potentially develop some of the space in the Bay building for both university and other purposes," Hurley, the U of W's senior executive officer, said. "We are potentially looking at some sort of national centre for indigenous studies, culture and art."
Hurley said the details are still being finalized, but the plan also involves relocating the U of W's existing graduate and undergraduate aboriginal programming into the Bay building and some other services.
"The idea is to make (the Bay building) a hub of indigenous studies, culture and art and so forth. It's a very unique opportunity."
The Bay's offer to the U of W seems to end several years of searching for new tenants and a re-purposing of the historic building at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.
It's also a further move by U of W president Lloyd Axworthy to stake claim to another piece of downtown.
The Bay's 84-year-old downtown six-storey building has been actively searching for tenants. Previous proposals were many and varied, such as government offices, Crown corporations like Manitoba Lotteries, residential condominiums and sharing the space with some exclusive high-end American department store chains.
The Bay made the first move to accommodate tenants by recently announcing it is consolidating its retail space to the first, second and fourth floors. It's also keeping the Paddlewheel Restaurant on the sixth floor. The basement is being upgraded and converted into a Zellers store, which will have its grand opening Nov. 4.
That leaves the U of W and its partners the third and fifth floors and part of the sixth floor.
Under Axworthy, the U of W has embarked on an ambitious and expensive expansion, with a new science complex, student residence, student mall at the former Greyhound bus depot, and the Buhler Centre.
Hurley said the potential at the Bay location is so immense that the U of W is seeking out partners, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, to develop the hub concept.
A formal announcement on the deal depends on which groups join U of W in the project, Hurley said, adding the university wants to get it done quickly and that a great deal of work remains.
"We have for a long time been interested in the Bay building and it's just been a question of how that happens. Now the governor of the Bay has been kind enough to approach us and give us an opportunity to think about how we can utilize it along with others, really make it, not only a destination point for the city, but for the country."
Hurley said the Hudson's Bay CEO wanted to make a contribution to Winnipeg and approached the U of W, adding the offer is also a way to increase foot traffic for the Bay and Zellers located in the building.
"But I think he sees some real value in the work we're doing next door and thinks we can be good partners."
Hurley said the U of W doesn't see any conflict with having programs and students based within the bowels of a Canadian retail icon, but added the proposed aboriginal studies centre would attract more than just students.
"It would be researchers, people who have general interest in things like history and culture. It's a mix of people, not just students... and that potentially has interest for the Bay because you're having a mix of different clientele coming in."
A source familiar with the project said Baker offered the U of W free rent as an inducement to move into the massive downtown building but Hurley said financial terms of the arrangement are still being worked out.
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Hurley said it doesn't appear as if Hudson's Bay is considering other tenants for the downtown building.
"The message from (Baker) is he's interested in working with us (alone)," Hurley said. "As far as we're concerned, it's an open opportunity for us that we'd like to take advantage of."
Aldo Santin Reporter
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.