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This article was published 30/6/2014 (1146 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Plans to transform the infamous Merchants Hotel into an education/housing complex just got a major boost from the province.
On Tues., June 24, Premier Greg Selinger announced $11.1 million towards the redevelopment of the Selkirk Avenue hotel, which will include 30 rent-geared-to-income housing units and classroom space for the Community Education Development Association’s (CEDA) pathways to education program and the University of Winnipeg’s urban and inner-city studies program.
Selinger said the new facility, dubbed Merchants Corner, not only benefits CEDA and U of W students but the community in general. Since the closure of the Merchants Hotel in 2012, violent street crimes in the surrounding area have decreased by 27.5 per cent, according to a provincial press release.
"We’ve already seen a dramatic improvement in neighbourhood safety and that means people want to live here, they want to invest here and they want to come here to work. We’ve already seen a big improvement, now we’re taking the next step," Selinger said.
"We’re going to make it a vital institution that will educate high school students. It will allow people to get access to university courses and programs right in the neighbourhood and it will provide housing for families. All of those things will make a stronger neighbourhood, a stronger city and a stronger province."
The funding, which includes $9.1 million to the 30 units and a $2 million repayable loan for the education space, is welcome news to the North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC), the non-profit agency tasked with overseeing the project.
At its annual general meeting on June 12, NECRC announced a $4.5-million fundraising campaign for Merchants Corner, expecting the province to kick in only $8 million to the then-estimated $12 million total cost of the project.
"We’re looking at fundraising $1.7 million now, rather than the large $4.5 million. The government has come through here today and it’s just wonderful," said NECRC executive director Robert Neufeld.
During his speech, NECRC board member and North End activist Michael Champagne said the Merchants Corner project is indicative of overall positive change in the North End, referencing events and organizations like Meet Me at the Bell Tower, Graffiti Art Programming, Ndinawe and Aboriginal Youth Opportunities.
"We have a little phrase in our community that’s been going on for the last little while called ‘North End rising’ and it’s because we as a community are beginning to collaborate, work together and rise," said Champagne, eliciting big cheers from the crowd at the announcement.
Champagne told The Times that the positive change in the community since the Merchants Hotel closure is clear.
"I think all you have to do is look at the amount of people and what they’re willing to do in our community," Champagne said.
"We have Meet Me at the Bell Tower, which was around before the Merchants closed, but now there are initiatives like Got Bannock?, All Good in the Hood, Winnipeg Water Wednesdays, there’s all sorts of initiatives happening in our community because people feel safe to help."