The City of Winnipeg could soon seek a compromise over a hotly-debated heritage designation some fear would threaten a $150-million development.
However, following a second divided vote on whether to add the 113-year-old Somerset Building to the city's historical resources list, it’s still unclear what council’s final say on the matter will be.
On Tuesday, the executive policy committee voted 4-3 in favour of laying over its vote on the matter for one month.
The move follows concerns from the Portage Avenue building’s owner the designation would threaten a $150-million development known as Canad Place.
"While it might temporarily save buildings from demolition, designation can also discourage redevelopment and reuse and it almost always costs too much," said Lea Ledohowski, president of Canad Inns hotel chain, which owns the downtown building.
Development plans include the Somerset Building, as well as Radisson Hotel and Metropolitan Entertainment Centre. When completed, the final structures could be linked together and offer a mix of retail, restaurants and new hotel room space, though details are still being worked out, Ledohowski said Tuesday.
"When you choose one or two buildings on a block, (that’s) assigning restrictions to those property owners that don’t exist on their neighbours. So essentially, it… can be reducing the value of those properties with no compensation," she said.
The city’s historical buildings committee proposed the designation to protect Somerset’s facades, windows and interior staircases, along with other key elements.
However, both Ledohowski and Winnipeg planning, property and development director John Kiernan agreed most of the building’s interior has previously been replaced, so there are few indoor heritage features to protect.
Kiernan said the building’s facade does create "a landmark presence on Portage Avenue."
Some councillors bluntly asked if the owner would tear down the building, which Ledohowski rejected.
"We have no intention of demolishing this building," she said.
Mayor Brian Bowman told reporters EPC’s delayed vote, which he supported, could allow time to find a compromise that protects the building and supports its redevelopment.
"I’d like to provide additional time for that dialogue to see if there’s way that we can reconcile the concerns that (the building owner) raised, as well as the recommendations of the public service," said Bowman.
The three councillors who voted against the delay also called to reject the heritage designation, including Couns. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry) and Scott Gillingham (St. James.)
Orlikow said he’s confident the facade can be protected without a formal heritage designation.
"I believe the brick is not in jeopardy, so I believe that we should not have to designate it and (we can) let this development go forward," he said.
Tuesday’s vote marks the second time a council committee couldn’t come to a consensus on the Somerset issue. The property and development committee cast a 2-2 vote on the issue last month, with two members rejecting the designation and two calling to protect only some of its elements.
Council will weigh in on the matter later this month.
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.
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