The new tenant of the building on Winnipeg's iconic Esplanade Riel promises to bring vibrancy and innovation to the site. Councillors hope it will keep jobs in the city, too.
The city's property and development committee unanimously voted to lease 50 Provencher Blvd. to Manitoba Technology Accelerator for five years. The hub on the bridge that connects The Forks to St. Boniface has housed restaurants, with the most recent being Mon Ami Louis.
"We knew that restaurants don't work," said Coun. Janice Lukes. "We've had some of the absolute best restaurants... they couldn't cut it. Let's look at something else."
Manitoba Technology Accelerator is a non-profit that helps start-ups and technology companies grow. When SkipTheDishes was a two-person operation, it stepped in to mentor and assist with infrastructure and investment.
The organization works with 300 groups internationally, and many come to Winnipeg, said chief executive officer Marshall Ring.
That fits in with the city's goal.
"People move from Winnipeg. They go to other cities for bigger, better jobs," Lukes said. "We want them to stay here, and this company works with smart, innovative people."
The roughly 4,000-square-foot building will be more than an office space. Ring plans to keep the vast kitchen area so the site can host events.
Ring said in the past week, he's received 20 emails from groups in the MTA’s network who'd like to host customer appreciation events or training programs at the downtown site. Another 10 requests came from strangers or people who've fallen out of touch with the group.
"Often times, it's 'Can we do something monthly with you?'" Ring said.
Ring told councillors he wants it to be Winnipeg's building, and he's open to collaborations.
"This is a bit of a blank canvas for us," Ring said. "We've got some thoughts, but we're looking for engagement."
The non-profit will erect interactive digital displays in the main area and create a tech commercialization hall of fame. It plans to invest $240,000 during the first two years of its lease, according to a city report.
"Our vision is vibrancy — people coming in, people coming out," Ring said. "Just a celebration of the successes we've had."
Coun. Matt Allard, whose St. Boniface ward includes Esplanade Riel, spoke in opposition of the proposal Tuesday.
"My community's been very clear that they don't believe this is the appropriate project for the bridge," he said. "This is the iconic bridge that we see on so many of our promotional materials in Winnipeg."
He said he wanted the space to promote tourism and be publicly accessible.
"I think the council who put this bridge together would be very disappointed to see it going to commercial office space," Allard said.
Ring said he's open to different views, and that he will meet today with groups that have a different vision.
City bureaucrats recommended the group pay $20,000 in rent annually. Coun. Kevin Klein said he's worked a deal with Ring in which the group will create scholarships for high school students in tech programs — it will keep kids in Winnipeg.
"I think having an innovation company, not-for-profit organization, take over residency... is the best thing we could do," he said, adding it will showcase Winnipeg to foreign investors.
The city issued a request for proposals in February. Two groups — one being the Manitoba Technology Accelerator — submitted.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.