A call to preserve the 93-year-old Roxy Lanes building through a heritage designation could thwart a plan to build affordable homes for seniors, according to its new owner.
The Manitoba Métis Federation said such a change by the City of Winnipeg would make a planned housing complex at the site too expensive to pursue.
"This property would not be viable if this (building) was designated as heritage… We can’t look at affordable housing, when (we’re) putting astronomical dollars into fixing old bricks," April Hourie, MMF deputy chief of staff, told council’s property and development committee Monday.
The comments came before the committee debated a plan to have the structure at 385 Henderson Hwy. considered for nomination to the city’s list of historical resources. The East Kildonan building opened as the Roxy Theatre in 1929, before being converted into the bowling alley in 1960.
If that designation is granted, it would protect the building from demolition.
Hourie said the MMF has worked to preserve some of its own buildings but feels this particular structure does not warrant protection, arguing many of its most significant features have already been removed or altered.
"The integrity of this building is not reflective of (the theatre) it once was. The original doors are gone, the interior is completely gutted. It does not look like that. It doesn’t have the neon sign, it doesn’t have the marquee. The vast hall is completely split," she said.
In an interview, Hourie told the Free Press the new affordable housing proposal requires the existing building to be demolished, while its replacement would beautify the area and supply greatly needed homes.
"It’s really unfortunate that there are sentimental feelings of individuals (to keep the building). That is definitely something that has brought this to the table. It’s not necessarily the (broader) community’s desire."
While plans are still being finalized, the MMF envisions a six-storey development with some 45 housing units for 55-plus residents. The new building would also offer commercial space on the first two floors, along with a potential rooftop terrace and seniors programs.
Hourie said it largely matches a similar plan MMF is pursuing in Selkirk. She estimates the Winnipeg development would be worth at least $15 million.
The committee also heard from advocates pushing to keep the Roxy Lanes intact, with some arguing it has served as a community staple for decades.
"I still think it could be recognized… Things should be saved as much as possible because it does look very much like it did in the 1930s, as far as the outside," said Jim Smith, president of the North East Winnipeg Historical Society.
Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, also urged the city to review whether the building warrants protection.
"This is not just significant because of its history, it’s significant because… it’s a cultural hub, a community hub," said Tugwell.
On Monday afternoon, the committee voted 3-1 to order Winnipeg’s planning, property and development director to consider if the structure should be nominated for a heritage designation.
Couns. Cindy Gilroy, Vivian Santos and Janice Lukes supported the motion; Coun. Kevin Klein opposed it.
"I think (we should) let the heritage experts look at it and make that decision on whether these elements are critical to this building or not," Gilroy told the Free Press.
If the director recommends the building be nominated for heritage protection, the matter will be subjected to additional city hall votes. If the director rejects the idea, no further action will be taken.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.