Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Building weaker communites

How badly does Chinatown need a Chinese restaurant and a dentist office? Not as badly, it seems, as it needs the office workers of a charity organization. Which one is better for "business investment, development and economic growth in downtown Winnipeg"?

Today's story of the United Way moving to Main and Pacific had me wondering if this had anything to do with the Kuo Min Tang/Johnstone building at 211 1/2 Pacific Avenue, just behind the proposed site.

Kuo Min Tang building, in the process of receiving a fresh coat of paint, Summer 2008. Courtesy of 1ajs

If there has been any redevelopment of Chinatown recently, it has been centred around this building, which for a number of years have housed a myriad of artists, who of course are among the first pioneers of true urban renewal. They would be ashamed to admit it, but they bridge the gap between decline and gentrification. One does not have to travel to Manhattan's SoHo to find that, look at the Exchange District centred around Albert St. and McDermot--who was there a decade ago? (I'll give you a hint: it wasn't the WRHA, Sport Manitoba or United Way)

Anyway, it seems the owners of the 99-year-old Kuo Min Tang building were approached last year by Centre Venture with an offer on the building. The offer was, essentially, nothing. Give up the property pro bono, in exchange for free rent in a new building to be constructed there (did I need to tell you that Centre Venture's plan was to have the building demolished? Probably not). Thankfully, the building's owners are foreign to the peculiar ways in which "revitalization" works in this town, and refused the offer (if it could be called that), insulted.

Which is why the building continues to be used by artists (Guy Maddin was apparently shooting scenes in the basement last Fall) and Chinese organizations, and is slowly being renovated. And may be what caused a change in site plans for the United Way's move to Main and Pacific. Was the hope that the Kuo Min Tang building was going to be a donating to United Way?

Kuo Min Tang building circa 1950s--a good time to be in the raw fur business. Courtesy of L'Atelier National du Manitoba


A Mr. Walter M. Krawec had an excellent letter to the editor today, criticizing the WRHA building. My only question would be, where did you think the office worker's 200 cars were going to go?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Far funnier than Krawec's letter was CentreVenture CEO McGowan's, desperately praising the WHRA building as though the move there wasn't his own personal idea in the first place.


4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wasting your time dude. Your critiques are falling on deaf ears. You think the city's downspiraling now, just wait till this recession really kicks in.

Just think about what the 1970s did for downtown Winnipeg....

5:37 PM  
Blogger Louis Riel said...

I've had a lot of friends live and work out of that building.

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The link to Krawec's opinion doesn't work but once found it is quite an eloquent denunciation of the project.

That Kuo Min Tang building looks gorgeous in the old photo. Strange to name a building after a political party though, no?

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait til you see the next parkade for Main Street.

what the fuck is going on.

11:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another one?!

10:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the letter:

Bait-and-switch tactic
Re: Main Street complex not as billed, Jan. 9.

In response to Friday's article regarding the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority building on Main Street, it is clear that there is more than enough blame to go around for this unfortunate debacle.

CentreVenture's apparent desperation to generate any kind of development activity is so palpable that there are few architectural or planning standards it won't encourage developers to compromise.

As for the City of Winnipeg, Coun. Mike Pagtakhan's comments gave the impression that it was totally in the dark throughout this project as it devolved from the attractive initial drawings to what was actually built. If the downtown development committee approves a specific type of project, shouldn't it be the city's responsibility to ensure that it gets built as proposed?

Moreover, who decided to allow an unsightly parkade, without any provision for street-level retail as promised, to be built in such a prominent location on one of Winnipeg's principal thoroughfares?

This project was heralded by CentreVenture as an ingredient in the revitalization of Main Street. The fact that this building is completely hostile to pedestrian activity, as well as the fact that it creates a huge void in the form of a parkade right on Main Street, means that it will be a failure.

It is little more than bait-and-switch development, and Winnipeggers will have to live with the consequences for years.

In its haste to treat what ails Main Street, CentreVenture and the City of Winnipeg have settled on a cure that is worse than the disease.


10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait til you hear of Hydro's plan to use 3 historical buildings in the exchnage as a substation.

This City is really pathatic.

Everyone should be fired.

5:40 PM  

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