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This article was published 2/9/2016 (1236 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The 110-year-old pumping station at the corner of Waterfront Drive and James Avenue doesn’t look much different but work has been going on to transform the historic building into a vibrant residential, office and commercial centre.
Developer Bryce Alston said his group is waiting for confirmation from city hall that the $17-million project will qualify for a 20-year property-tax freeze before the deal with CentreVenture to take ownership of the property closes.
"There’s not much going on at this point," said Alston. He and partner Rick Hofer were given the go-ahead by city council in July to proceed with the project. "We’re spending money now doing some work on the understanding that we’ll get the (approvals)," from city hall.
The James Avenue pumping station used to be the heart of the downtown fire-suppression system, but it’s been closed for decades and has fallen into disrepair. The heavy machinery and pumps are considered magnificent by those who have seen them, but the building needs extensive repairs.
There have been 13 failed attempts to redevelop the pumping station since 2000, including a controversial 2014 proposal for a 24-storey glass tower suspended over the historic building. That project fizzled out shortly after getting city hall support.
Alston and Hofer’s plan has been endorsed by the business and heritage communities: the original building and machinery will be restored and two new buildings — with rental units — will be built on either side of the station.
The deal’s closing has been pushed to Sept. 19, pending city hall’s approval of a series of property-tax freezes that were implemented by former mayor Sam Katz.
Alston said passersby will notice some activity soon, as crews rip open portions of the pre-cast concrete roof to examine how the roof was constructed. It’s the prelude to designing a series of skylights that will allow tenants in the two new buildings to peer down into the building basement and view the refurbished machinery.
The building has a footprint of 14,600 square feet, Alston said.
The plan calls for the construction of a 9,800-square-foot office atrium to be suspended over the basement. Meanwhile, a series of 23-foot-by-12-foot skylights will be carved into the roof.
To the west of the building, there will be a six-storey rental building with residential units on the top five floors. To the east, there will be a five-storey building with rental units on the top four floors. From the office atrium, there will be direct views from the new adjoining buildings into the original building’s basement.
Alston said the two residential buildings will have a total of 87 rental units. He’s hoping to land a restaurant tenant for the main floor of the east building on Waterfront Drive. The west building will have commercial space on the main floor and an underground parkade.
Some of the exterior brick work has been repointed, Alston said.
Plans were submitted to the planning department’s heritage division to replace the windows. Applications have been made for the foundation and structural building permit for the interior work of the pumping station.
Councillors were told in early July the project still has several hurdles, including reviews by the urban design committee and the historical resources committee, a rezoning from industrial use and a public hearing.
Alston and Hofer have a solid track record with heritage buildings.
Hofer, and his brother Mark, have completed three heritage redevelopment projects: a warehouse at 315 Pacific Ave. that was converted into offices; another warehouse at 230 Princess St. that was converted into an apartment/retail complex; and the conversion of the former Avenue and Hample office buildings on Portage Avenue into a 75-unit apartment complex with main-floor office space.
The Alston family’s Victoria-based construction and development firm — Alston Properties — has redeveloped a number of downtown heritage buildings in Western Canada, including the former Galpern Building at 165 McDermot Ave., which is being converted into 30 one-bedroom rental apartments and four two-bedroom townhouse units.
The Hofers worked on the Avenue Building with 5468796 Architects, which is designing the pumping station project.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Friday, September 2, 2016 at 7:04 AM CDT: Headline fixed.