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This article was published 16/5/2018 (611 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In a sign of growing confidence in the city’s downtown, a large residential developer has purchased a social housing highrise that has sat empty for the past three years.
Edison Properties, which owns the Fort Garry Place towers and several other city apartment buildings, recently bought the 21-storey structure at 185 Smith St. from Manitoba Housing for $16.2 million. The property had been assessed by the city a year ago at $12.4 million.
In April 2015, water pipes burst in the building, flooding the basement and damaging major mechanical systems.
The occupants of its 300 bachelor and one-bedroom units all had to be relocated.
The Progressive Conservative government put the 45-year-old building up for sale after deciding the cost would be prohibitive to renovate it to Manitoba Housing standards.
Families Minister Scott Fielding said proceeds from the sale would be used to "support thousands of Manitobans in the housing market with additional options."
He didn’t specify what those options were.
Fielding said in a statement to the Free Press that the highrise did not fit the government’s current social housing model "of smaller projects that are better integrated into communities."
"We decided the property was better suited to a group with a focus on downtown revitalization," he said.
"We’re happy to hear the new owner is exploring redevelopment options that include affordable and market (price) residential rents and may include seniors housing," the minister said.
Frank Koch-Schulte, Edison’s vice-president, said the company is still refining its plans for the building.
"We’re just excited at the opportunity and we’re looking forward to bringing something that we feel is unique to the downtown," he said Tuesday. The company hopes to have units ready for market within two years.
Koch-Schulte said the province has repaired the damage caused by the burst pipes and, overall, the building is in good shape.
"We’re quite happy with what we have to work with," he said.
Angela Mathieson, president and CEO of CentreVenture Development Corp., said she’s pleased to see the building redeveloped after sitting idle for so long.
She said Edison, with nearly 5,000 suites in Winnipeg, is one of the largest residential operators and has a good track record.
She said the purchase shows that "confidence is growing" downtown.
"The single most important strategy we have for revitalizing downtown is getting more people to live downtown. And this is right in line with that," she said.
When the government announced it was selling the building, advocates for the homeless and people with low incomes were dismayed. They wanted government to maintain the building for social housing, which is already in short supply.
Point Douglas NDP MLA Bernadette Smith said it was "a bad decision" to sell the building.
"Our government is going in the wrong direction in terms of housing. We have a crisis here in Manitoba. We don’t have enough safe, affordable housing. And here they are selling some of the stock," she said Tuesday.
Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, called the loss of the social housing apartments "disappointing."
"There are people who could have used those units," she said.
Kehler said she hopes the government uses the proceeds of the sale to reverse a subsidy cut announced last year to the Rent Assist program. Last July 1, more than 7,000 low-income Manitobans enrolled in the program had their rent subsidies cut by three per cent.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.