Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A tougher sell

Sport Manitoba's planned destruction of the Smart-Bag Co. Building has left a city wondering just why they have a historical buildings committee and building conservation by-laws anymore.

The 126-year-old warehouse will not be making way for a fieldhouse (essentially, a gymnasium) any time soon, but a surface parking lot where a fieldhouse might go in the future. Currently, Sport Manitoba does not have any money to build any kind of fieldhouse. They do, however, apparently have the funds to tear down this building and use its site as a temporary surface parking lot. (But as photographer Bryan Scott reminds us, there is nothing more permanent than a temporary parking lot in downtown Winnipeg.)

As far as optics are concerned, a surface parking lot in a mostly-vacant corner of the city isn't quite the "public amenity" that a fieldhouse would be. But just as demolishing a perfectly fine building that was totally occupied a year ago isn't as easy to justify as one that is "unsafe," it isn't easy to demolish buildings for parking lots as it would be for a new gym that Exchange residents could use. Sports Manitoba might be a non-profit, but they sure know how to sell.

The map below shows the extent of Winnipeg's built up area in 1884, the year that the first part of the Smart-Bag Building was constructed on Alexander Avenue. In 1884, the city only expanded as far west as Isabel and Kennedy Streets, as far north as Point Douglas, and "South End" meant Broadway.

The map is only to put into perspective the age of this building in relation to the rest of the city. But history is not reason enough to keep old buildings from falling, and surface parking lots from proliferating throughout the city centre. While the Smart-Bag is (or was) a heritage building, this is not a heritage issue. It is an issue of what kind of centre Winnipeg will have: a downsized, decentralized wasteland dominated by parking lots and "new unurban urbanization (thanks again, Jane Jacobs)," or a modest city that still contains the seeds of its own, slow regeneration, wants to one day see people on the sidewalks again, and doesn't destroy itself quite so willingly.

Courtesy of Manitoba Historical Maps. Click to enlarge


Blogger MacD said...

Unfortunately for downtown, there is more money to be made from a parking lot than from a vacant building.

For example:

"Right now, the private sector has little incentive to build parkades in surface lots due to the gap between the cost and short-term profits."

This is insane.


9:33 PM  
Blogger JJ said...

I would like to provide some clarification on the Smart Bag building issue.

The demolition is only approved on the condition that the site NOT be used for surface parking!!!!!!!

The original decision at the time of the grade III designation would have saved only a facade (the north wall). Since then other issues such as significant structural problems and fire code issues led to a second decision that the building could be demo'd. The condition that this not be used for surface parking was then included.

I am also concerned to read your dismissive comments about the Historical Buildings Committee

I would remind you that the HBC plays an important role in advising council on heritage issues.

Unfortunately City Council doesn't always heed HBC's advice. A good example is the decision to ignore the HBC's advice and to allow the demo of the Lombard Annex (a completely viable and solid building) in the heart of the National Historic Site. It didn't help that Heritage Winnipeg was inexplicably advocating against HBC's position and in support of demo'ing. By the way, you may recall that a surface parking lot will be part of that new streetscape.

Thanks for your interest in our city.

Jenny Gerbasi
Chair, Historical Buildings Committee

3:24 PM  
Blogger The Rise and Sprawl said...

Councillor Gerbasi, thank you for your comments. My source is closely involved with the Sport Manitoba project. I agree that Sport Manitoba would happily build the fieldhouse immediately after the rubble of the Smart-Bag building clears, but I have reason to believe that they don't have the money to do so at this time, and that they plan on parking there in the meantime.

I don't think I was being dismissive of the Historic Buildings Committe in particular; I think they do very important work. Unfortunately, I think they made the wrong decision with regards to the Smart-Bag building when they agreed to facadism, then later agreeing to total demolition provided it's not surface parking. That, to me, is a dangerous precedent. Now anyone can come to the City and ask for a demolition based on any degree of structural and fire issues. As any owner of a century-old building that has been under-maintained over the years knows, just about every old building downtown could fit this catergory (even major structural issues, such as those facing the warehouse at 115 Bannatyne, can be remediated provided there is a will to keep the building standing).

Again, I do think the HBC does good work, and appreciate it when they go to bat for threatened buildings. But like Heritage Winnipeg, who also quietly supported Sport Manitoba's plans, the HBC were really in this wrong in this case. More deals like this will mean that Winnipeg could go from envy of the national heritage community to its laughingstock very quickly.

I understand the pressures and the limited ability that the HBC faces at city hall, and from a large segment of the city who are indifferent to heritage, but I still find this case disappointing.

I agree that the Grain Exchange Annex plan is bad. Thanks for your comments on that.

3:46 PM  
Blogger JJ said...

I believe there is an enforceable clause that means they will NOT be allowed to park there. If parking does occur there, I hope people immediately report it to the city.

I too have concerns about facadism and so does the HBC. It is only recommended as a last resort and very reluctantly. I have written a letter to the editor a while back about this concern.

I appreciate that the Smart Bag decision was disappointing but I assure the HBC tried to do the right thing in challenging circumstances.

Anyhow, I do appreciate that there are a lot of people out there who speak out and care for our heritage.

take care

4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Has left a City WONDERING. Don't make me laugh. 99% of the city didn't and couldn't couldn't care less about the Smart Bag Building.

Hey Ms. Gerbasi, why is there suvch a spin on the 50 Million price tag for Stadium renovations. Whats the matter, you folk don't read Brodbeck at the Sun or took a look at the Tower Report.

Whats the rush, Asper going to take his money elsewhere ? Oh I forgot, he can't afford a stadium.

5:31 PM  
Blogger urbandude said...

When a city like our does not have a development plan in place for an important area like the Exchange, and does not have a development agency actively seeking private sector partners to fulfill that plan, you get shit like this.

Only in Winnipeg.....

11:27 PM  
Blogger unclebob said...

I think you should keep an eye on some of the forces that seek parking like our wonderful Parking Authority.

It is already difficult to recycle old structures but it is made much more so when behind the scenes empire building activity is actually promoting the exact opposite

9:26 AM  
Blogger Spugsley said...

Mr. Nobody once again informing us how he doesn't care, nobody cares, yada, yada, yada. How sad it must be to live in your lonely, cynical world.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Louis Riel said...

Here's an article that applies to both this situation and this city.


11:14 AM  

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