Friday, February 27, 2009

At least they did something

It can be assumed that the argument-turned stabbing that occurred in front of the Woodbine Hotel on Main Street earlier this week, has re-kindled downtown booster's wishes to shut down the 131-year-old bar and its hotel rooms upstairs. Sure, the present owner has put lots of his own money into restoring the place over the last six or seven years, and puts an effort into running a relatively friendly bar, but we'd rather see it in one of our friend's hands...

It's nice to imagine something along the lines of The Fyxx coffee shop, which occupies the back half of the building on Albert Street, but let us not pretend there's a history of successfully converting Winnipeg's old single-room hotels. How is Ken Zaifman, that golden boy to the downtown booster crowd, doing with the St. Charles Hotel? (The "insanitary" sign the City put up in the window a month ago is the most action I've seen there in a while. ) How is the sale and redevelopment of the Bell Hotel going? What's new at the Royal Albert?

You can loathe the Woodbine Hotel's existence all you like, but at least the owner has done something with his property.

Photo from Digital Agent on Flickr

Edit: Am I good or what? This story was just put up on CBC Manitoba: "Woodbine Hotel hurting Exchange district's changing image: residents"

I wonder: is Mr. McGowan searching for buyers for the comparatively more sketchy, statistically more dangerous, yo-yo nightclubs in the vicinity? Or is he just looking for a whipping boy? After all, dodgy bars like the Clarendon Hotel and Times Nightclub left Portage Avenue years ago, so what excuse can be made for the Avenue Building remaining a vacant civic embarrassment? Who owns that one?

Also worth noting, is the renovation and commercial development presently going on next door to the Woodbine Hotel.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The state of the Union Bank

There has been a great deal of wishing and hoping that a new press release will come down from the Red River College administration office, announcing they are once again going to save downtown, and are ready to get to work retro-fitting the Union Bank tower at Main and William. Meanwhile, the current owners of the 105-year-old structure seem to be letting it decline to the point where it is likely in violation of the City's Vacant and Derelict Buildings bylaw.

Through the winter, the ground floor windows became covered by a wall of ice inches thick. Warmer temperatures a few weeks ago melted the ice, revealing black mud on the interior walls, and a large puddle of water on the floor of the once great banking hall. The roof-top entrance is apparently ajar, and the exterior is becoming littered in graffiti tags.

Union Bank tower, c.1980. Photo from the U of M's Winnipeg Building index

The building is presently co-owned by Guy Hobman at Greentree Homes (remember them?) and Joe Bova from practically-a-crown-corporation ManShield Construction. (As chair of the North Main task force, Bova led the second-most recent demolition spree on Main Street: the wrecking of the block between Higgins and Henry in 1999. Does his disdain for buildings extend down the street to banker's row?)

A prominent building on Main Street, that is famously Western Canada's first skyscraper (though I made a case for the long-forgotten Merchant's Bank (1900) at Main and Lombard being the first), that overlooks Market Square and City Hall should not be in the position of becoming the next Epic Theatre or Ogilvie Flour Mills. With every season of neglect, of letting water, pigeons and vandals in, and the costs of Red River Colleges plans for the building go up. (But I suppose the greater the costs, the greater the construction contract that ManShield can bid on.)

The failure of Waverley West

Here's an article that was published in today's Free Press:

Over the past six years, Winnipeggers have heard much about how Waverley West would be a panacea to civic woes.

The development industry believed it would be good for economic growth by keeping jobs in skilled trades from exiting Winnipeg for Alberta. The Provincial NDP, a major land owner and potential developer, argued it would be economically “just” not only by keeping housing prices low, but through some of the profits funding programs in impoverished core neighborhoods.

The sounds of cement mixers and nail guns could not be heard soon enough. In March 2006, planning firm ND Lea said the shortage of available lots in southwest Winnipeg had reached a "critical stage," and Winnipeg Real Estate Board spokesperson Peter Squire said stalling on Waverley West would be "totally counterproductive" in creating a sustainable city. By September, things had become so grim, that Garth Steek, then the president of the Manitoba Homebuilder’s Association, warned south Winnipeg would “run out of building lots in two years.”

After all that pent-up demand, and months after building lots were alleged to have disappeared entirely, the Free Press reports that only 75 houses have been built, or are in the process of being built in the new subdivision.

Market demand is not the only thing that is underwhelming...


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Good-bye, Rae & Jerry's?

Rumor 'round the dinner table tonight is that Rae & Jerry's Steakhouse on Portage Avenue at Omand's Creek, will become the location of a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, which bills itself "the world's largest fine dining company." It was not known if Rae & Jerry's will continue at a new location (hard to imagine), or if Ruth's Chris plans for a new building.

A scene from Martin Scorsese's Goodfella's--not shot in Rae & Jerry's, but close

Anyway, Rae & Jerry's is a legendary spot for Winnipeg's almost-at-the-top social classes, and a vestige of late '50s and early '60s restaurant decor (and service, often) that looks every bit 1960 today as it did in, well, 1960. They also happen to serve the best Black Russians in town. And for this, I would miss this old institution were it disappear.

It may also be that Ruth's Chris is planning to open up somewhere downtown (their four existing Canadian steakhouses are in downtown locations). In any event, two things are fairly certain: that Ruth's Chris is coming to Winnipeg (as far as chain establishments curing civic inferiority complexes, how high do pricey steakhouses rank?) ; and that Rae & Jerry's is great, especially their Black Russians.

EDIT - Turns out that Rae & Jerry's is not going anywhere, as there are no plans to re-locate, sell, or close down. So, the white shoes will continue to pad across the red carpet into the future.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Winnipeg, 1874

An entertaining look at life and development in Winnipeg of 1874, from the Manitoba Nor' Wester, courtesy of, which is currently down. (On Louis Riel Day? Sacrebleu!)

July 20

"Remember the promenade concert to-night in the Pacific Hotel. Tickets only 25 cts. Big time."

July 27
"The side walk is being progressed down Notre Dame Street. Whoop la! we know a youthful genius who won't have to walk through the mud any more."
August 3
"Apropos of drunkenness.--A tipsy Good Templar named Cameron, the other night pushed his way into the Davis Hotel [the vacant lot on Main next to Canwest tower] at an untimely hour. Having created a disturbance in the house, and forced his way into several of the boarders' rooms, ladies' included, he was finally kicked into the street by the indignant proprietors."

August 17
"We object to Aldermen getting their animals out of the pound without paying charges."

"Wolseley House at Point Douglas is now in full blast. The Hotel is one of the best in the city."

"Buffalo are reported to be plentiful on the Saskatchewan. we [sic] hope so for the sake of those who have gone out to trade this fall."

"The Mennonites all seem to be struck with the hardware business. The hardware men like such strikes. Stoves, &c., they are after."

"The Free Press is continually sticking its nose down the Artesian well on Main Street; it is long enough for the purpose, alway stirring up the mud without doing any good. "

"It is reported that Albert Sargeant, better known to old residents as "Butts," was married yesterday at St. Andrews. Full particulars of the disaster are not known."

August 24
"We are pleased to observe a change for the better in the architectural appearance of many of the buildings now going up in the city."

"Fort street is beginning to rival its neighbor, Main street, in fine buildings and business traffic. Already it has two first-class hotels and several handsome private residences."

"Mr. Carpenter, our much respected Stage and Express Agent, has built himself a house at Point Douglas which for neatness, compactness and architectural beauty takes a first prize. Mr. Carpenter, can it be possible?--ahem! nuff ced."

"A runaway took place on Monday evening bringing up at Brown's Bridge
[at present-day Main and William]. The buggy was pretty well smashed up, and the harness torn from the horse, Chief of Police Ingram took charge of the horse. No lives lost, the driver haveing jumped out before the horse started to run."

The Manitoba Free Press was not without their own observations:

July 25
"The Mormon preachers whose arrival we noted Wednesday, are making preparations to convert the Gentiles of Manitoba to the faith of the true prophet. They are the original Mormons and do not believe in polygamy and other Utah innovations. They say that the Lord appeared unto their Chief and told him to send up some people to establish a colony here, and further, that the Lord said the Government here would give them land."

"In walking the streets now-a-days, citizens of some years standing find that they know only about every tenth man they meet."

"The first through ticket from Fort Garry to the old country, was bought Saturday at the Telegraph Ticket Office by John Hacket, father of the baker, for $66,50, via Quebec & Allan Line to Glasgow. Now is the chance for some of the old settlers to visit the old country cheap."

October 12
"The Manitoba college lately removed from Kildonan to this city is now in full operation the fall term having commenced last week."

"Who shall now say Winnipeg is the second wickedest place in the Dominion? A Y.M.C.A. was formed in the city on Monday evening."

"Prairie chickens are coming into the city in immense numbers. Our sportsmen who have leisure are enjoying the glorious weather and the not less glorious sport upon the prairie."

October 26
"The Point Douglas Proprietors" have determined to present to the city the twelve acres set apart for a market [between Euclid and Henry Avenue?] provided the corporation plant the property with trees and transform it into a park."

November 9
"Alderman Cameron is becoming a terror to evil doers. He runs the Police Court with rare good judgment, tempering justice with mercy in such a way as to win the approval of disorderlies themselves, his own conscience and society at large. He is ably assisted by A.M. Brown, Esq."

November 23
"Beef and pork from Minnesota in the quarter and hog will soon be in active competition with our local butchers' stocks. It is to be hoped the consuming poor will benefit from the competition."

November 30
"The crop of drunks Friday was much heavier than usual. John Sullivan was committed for one week on refusal or inability to pay fine of $5. Margaret Corcoran was also drunk and disorderly and got one week."

December 7
Business circles have regained their normal condition, St. Andrew's day being fairly "gone and past" for another twelve months."

January 25, 1875
"We understand Mr. Ashdown intends to erect a large three story brick building on the old site of his present store, which has been removed a short distance to the north. It is evident Mr. Ashdown is determined to keep up with the times."

February 1
It ain't so much fun to race horses through our principal thoroughfares after all, is it? The young sports who tried it Thursday don't think so, anyway. Police Court, you know."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Get used to disappointment

After all that. Six years of pent-up demand in a corner of the city that was going to run out of residential lots two years ago, and only 75 houses are being built?

Even David Witty, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, has dropped toeing the line for the U of M's real estate interests (and selling out his discipline), and now expresses disappointment in what Waverley West is becoming.

Meanwhile, elected officials at City Hall once again prove their collective ability to look at things with foresight:

"The feeder main to carry water in will cost $11 million. The main sewer pipe will cost $4.6 million. The tab for community centres, policing and fire protection is $39 million. And along with the $60-million Kenaston extension, there are plans to widen Waverley Street, extend Bison Drive and improve other components of southwest Winnipeg's transportation network at a cost of more than $300 million, not including the $327 million southwest bus corridor former mayor Murray hoped would service the new suburb.

The capital costs of the suburb are undeniably higher than the $119 million projected in 2004, when the city and province conducted a pair of cost-benefit analyses that came up with widely different earning projections: the city predicted $74 million over 60 years, while the province envisioned $228 million over 23 years. [*]"

(You mean, it's not going to magically appear for free? Why would the developers of Waverley West lie to the City via some cooked-up ND Lea study? I thought they were simply pushing the City to ammend Plan Winnipeg and allow Waverley West to be nice. What happened?)

"We look to government to be innovative at times." said St. Norbert Councillor Justin Swandel.

Get used to disappointment indeed.

The failure of Waverley West is not that it will (well, duh...) not end up being a cutting edge model of new urbanism, but that it will not slow residential development outside City limits. People that wish to live outside City boundaries will continue to do so. It was not that a "tight" market pushed them out of the city in recent years, it was that a healthy seller's market offered much to choose from. Waverley West will not eliminate City property taxes, lower crime rates, or make lot sizes bigger--the primary reasons why people who choose to move out to the bedroom communities of surrounding R.M.s do so.

What Waverley West will do, however, is bring commercial amenities (such as its pathetically-dubbed "town centre") closer and closer to the R.M.s where people are moving to (Oak Bluff, La Salle, et c.), making it more desirable for builders to develop, and buyers to live there. And so it goes, with the City losing residents and the property taxes needed to pay its increasing stack of bills.

The people who don't mind living in the City (and its pre-Unicity suburbs) will be held to paying higher taxes for this, while watching municipal services in their own neighborhood decline. Not only sidewalks, transit, sewers and parks, but quality of life: Waverley West's apologists imagined "a walkable neighborhood where a bus stop is never more than 400 metres away and cafes, libraries, shops and recreation centres are around the corner. [*]"

Sounds like what any neighborhood in central Winnipeg was--before being bludgeoned by ghettoization not only from a City government sleeping on the job, but from a Provincial government on the make.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The facade of mediocrity

This article was published in this week's issue of The Uniter.

The key to demolishing a building in the Exchange District today is patience.

For the Reiss family’s Bedford Investments company, it has taken more than 15 years of willful neglect to finally win approval to demolish the Ryan Block for a parkade. Keeping the facade (or simply talking about it) is simply becoming another method, and the City of Winnipeg is giving $1.5 million in municipal heritage grants to Bedford Developments to rebuild the facade of the 114-year-old warehouse and incorporate it into the parking structure.

Illustration by Robert Huynh

Facade-retention is increasingly seen as a supposed “win-win,” but is really just an excuse for continuing to gradually thwart the vibrancy of the Exchange District by adding more to its over-saturated parking supply. Urban spaces are not simply a collection of nice facades propped up like movie sets, but living and dynamic organisms: at their best when they are dense and complex in their uses...

the rest

A post sure to attract new readers

Who needs bloggers and anonymous internet commentators to "denigrate aboriginal culture [sic] beliefs... and trot out outdated stereotypes and misinformation"--the folks at the SCO are doing a good enough job themselves. No wonder many young Aboriginals follow their chief's "take and take but never own" ethos and live lives of violence and street gangs.

Racist online remarks anger native leaders - WFP

"Swan Shannacappo and Chief Russell Beaulieu of the Sandy Bay First Nation called the media after university student-leaders came to them with the results of monitoring news sites from April 2008 to this month... So, the leaders are asking for help to prevent racism in blogs either by public pressure or criminal deterrence.
"Robinson added, "As Canadians, we don't pay taxes to create a platform for hate speech.""

...we just pay taxes to monitor anonymous comments on the internet, and sue the companies that host "racist" ones. This goes along with paying taxes to keep armchair thugs like the SCO, who think the internet is part of their chiefdom (or a "federal responsibility," as Intergovernmental affairs minister Steve Ashton thinks), living comfortable.

Steve Ashton, meanwhile, seems to support the stifling of (particular) opinions:

"Let's avoid the problem before it happens."

But if a thought is never expressed ("it happens"), how do we know whether or not it will offend certain people ("the problem")?

Best to just never say anything at all.

Legal threats in reaction to this post? Please send them to:

Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
Phone: +1 650-253-0000
Fax: +1 650-253-0001

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Any guesses?