A tougher sell
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.