Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/3/2012 (3188 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In a case of Winnipeg history repeating itself, demolition is underway at an intersection once regarded as one of downtown's original eyesores.
Back in 1883, when the city was a dirt-road frontier town scattered around Main Street, the five-storey Clarendon Hotel became the first major building on the north side of Portage Avenue. But the rapid development of downtown Winnipeg during the railway boom quickly bypassed the stone-and-brick structure, perhaps best known today as the A&B Sound building.
In the words of a City of Winnipeg heritage report, the Clarendon "went from being a landmark to an eyesore" by the late 1910s and was demolished in 1920 to make room for a two-storey commercial structure, dubbed the Clarendon Block.
Flash forward another 85 years, and the former Clarendon was once again an eyesore. After serving turns as a furniture retailer, electronics store and even an ill-reputed bar where the Tragically Hip played a couple of early gigs, the empty Clarendon sat at the northwest corner of Portage and Donald Street in 2005, sporting the garish purple colours of the now-bankrupt A&B Sound chain.
The redevelopment of the corner, however, is underway once again, as a trackhoe began tearing into the northeast corner of the former Clarendon on Thursday afternoon.
Winnipeg's Longboat Development Corporation, which acquired the building and used it to show off preserved human bodies, Titanic artifacts and Da Vinci inventions at the short-lived MTS Exhibition Hall, is demolishing most of the city block opposite the MTS Centre.
In 2014, a Chipman family-owned company plans to open a $70-million hotel, office and parkade project called 311 Portage at Centrepoint.
"Too late for second thoughts now," city property director Barry Thorgrimson said to Longboat CEO Jeoff Chipman as they watched the commencement of the demolition from a vantage point on the roof of the nearby Mountain Equipment Co-Op.
The former Clarendon, the neighbouring Wild Planet building on Donald Street, most of the Mitchell-Copp building on Portage and the Norlyn building on Hargrave Street will be replaced by a 15-storey Alt hotel above a five-storey commercial structure, with consulting firm Stantec as an anchor tenant, as well as a new parkade.
"This is probably one of the first private-sector investments in downtown Winnipeg that wasn't incentivized," Thorgrimson said.
The city is contributing almost $5.7 million to the project: $660,000 to preserve the Mitchell-Copp building's facade and another $5 million to the parkade as a recoupable investment.
Construction began in February, when crews entered the Coronation Block and Wild Planet building to remove asbestos and other materials. It will end with the parkade standing over the former Norlyn building site (and displacing its most famous tenant, the Wagon Wheel diner) and the five-storey commercial structure taking up most of the building footprint.
In a nod to the block's history, the luxury hotel tower will be perched where the Clarendon used to stand. Despite the Chipman-family connection to the MTS Centre across the street, there will be no tunnel between the hotel and the hockey arena, which would have allowed the likes of Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin to avoid rubbing shoulders with Jets fans on Portage Avenue.
"We looked and there was too much stuff in the way," said Longboat president Scott Stephanson.
The development is the key component of a city-provincial plan to designate 11 blocks of downtown Winnipeg a "sports, hospitality and entertainment district," or SHED, where property taxes from new developments will be funnelled into other improvements in the same area.
The province has yet to enable this tax-increment financing zone, which will also encompass the MTS Centre, the Burton Cummings Theatre, the Winnipeg Convention Centre, the Metropolitan Theatre and whatever winds up rising on the surface lot west of Cityplace.
As TV cameras gathered footage of the Clarendon's demise, Stephanson said he looks forward to the day when downtown Winnipeg development is not news.
"Very soon, hopefully, it's just going to be a daily occurrence in this city," he said.