The Gregg Building, a 117-year-old Exchange District warehouse that has sat empty for years, will be reborn sometime in the 2020s as a mixed commercial-residential space.
"The building itself is rock-solid, and I think there’s potential there," said Jay Knysh, owner of Winnipeg’s Knysh Construction, who bought the designated heritage building at 52 Albert St. earlier this year.
Land title records show the property changed hands for $885,000. The four-storey Romanesque-revival warehouse was designed by architect James H. Cadham for silk importer G.R. Gregg and Company. The brick structure was built in 1902, with a fifth storey added in 1922.
Knysh estimates the redevelopment project will take three years. Workers are currently cleaning up the building’s interior, reclaiming as much original material as they can.
Knysh plans to convert the third, fourth and fifth floors of the building into mid-market rental apartments, perhaps ranging between 750 square feet and 1,400 square feet in size. That might work out to four, six or eight units per floor.
"I certainly want them to be beautiful," Knysh said.
"I want the quality to be something that I would live in myself, and I may in fact (do so). But we also want to make it affordable for the community and for the area."
Knysh plans to maintain the commercial space on the Gregg Building’s ground floor, which was previously home to the Vault Salon and Spa. The second floor — which still holds a mostly intact day spa complete with a sauna and treatment rooms — could remain as commercial space or become more apartments, depending on demand.
Especially enticing to Knysh is the building’s original passenger elevator. It’s too small to meet modern building codes, but he’d like to remove it and put it on display in appreciation of "the old ways of how things work."
"It’s not just a square box, it’s got shape and contour and just... it’s got a personality," said Knysh of the manually operated lift.
The Gregg Building is also home to two vaults. The wall of the ground-level vault was reimagined as a brick-arched coffee bar during the building’s salon era, Knysh said, but he has yet to discover what’s sealed in the basement vault.
Knysh’s redevelopment plan for the Gregg Building has the full support of local non-profit Heritage Winnipeg, said executive director Cindy Tugwell, who expects the redevelopment to help reinvigorate Albert Street.
"And someone like Jay (Knysh) is exactly who we want to own this building, because he wants to do the right thing — he’s got to make some money, I mean, everybody does if they’re going to make a go of the building — but he wants to be part of the community, wants to work with Heritage Winnipeg, wants to work with the city," Tugwell said.
The Gregg Building and the neighbouring Royal Albert Hotel both deteriorated under the previous ownership of Winnipeg businessman Daren Jorgenson, Tugwell added. The Gregg Building’s next owner, who lived in British Columbia, gutted the building’s interior but didn’t engage with the Exchange District community, according to Tugwell.
"I think there’s a difference between owning a building and putting your blood, sweat and tears into it... Heritage buildings, especially in a national historic site, should not be treated just as regular real estate," she said.
Knysh wants Winnipeggers to know that the Gregg Building is more than just a property to him.
"I care about the Exchange, and I care about the architecture and the heritage of this building, enough so that I wanted to put my money where my mouth was, and put some energy into it and literally put some passion into it," Knysh said.
"Being local, I’m proud of that… When it’s all said and done, I want to look back on it and just be very proud of what we’ve done."