Thursday, January 22, 2009

Everyone likes facades, right? why isn't "maybe" keeping the facades of one of the most impressive streetscapes in the city not selling the sub-station idea? I don't get it. What do these fancy-pants latté-drinkers want? An important neighborhood that will continue getting nicer?
Buildings eyed by Hydro. Photo courtesy of West End Dumplings

From the
Free Press story:
-Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg: "We want to bring people and activity to the Exchange," Tugwell said.

-Brian Timmerman, director of operations for the Exchange BIZ: "The recent success in the Exchange District has come from growth in retail, office and residential sectors. If Hydro takes away that whole block, it would affect life in the area."

-John Giavedoni, chairman of the Residents of the Exchange District [finally! one was formed]: "Area businesses depend on people who work in those buildings."

-Hart Mallin: "It [Hydro] should find another location."

Centre Venture CEO Ross McGowan, meanwhile, said he "would oppose any plans that call for demolition of the three buildings."

Even with the facade kept (both Centre Venture and the WRHA said it was "worth considering" keeping the Starland Theatre's facade last year, too), the effect is largely the same as tearing it down for a parking lot. Visually, a kept facade is superior to a wind-swept lot--one can squint his eyes and imagine they are still real buildings--but practically, it is the same: massive amounts of space dedicated to the dead storage of machinery. Nothing else is done there.

At least with parking lots, people walk in and out of them from time to time.

West End Dumplings
Policy Frog
No more rhymes now, I mean it
Update: Regan Wolfrom

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A good planner is hard to find

I wonder why. Would you bother sticking around?
"City staff are calling the Ikea project a "smart development," in that the road, water and sewer upgrades required to build the new retail mecca are "also beneficial to the surrounding area" and will be built ahead of schedule by the developer. "This is something we're looking at doing for the first time," city economic development manager Barry Thorgrimson said Monday."

"We're certainly encouraging this type of development in the future."

As opposed to what is being encouraged now, or at any time in the past 37 years.

Corner of Waverley and Bishop Grandin Blvd., 2005. Unfortunately there were no lights at the City bright enough to spin this as "smart development" then, so it was given the (rather passé) term 'suburban sprawl'.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On the Waterfront, pt. 2

Senator Rod Zimmer's plan for the Alexander Avenue docks is now dead, after construction failed to begin by December 31st.

In July, when City council approved Sen. Zimmer's proposal (for a commercial use for the James Avenue pumping station, a conference centre, and renovation of the docks), it was amusing to see just how much lip service was put into context and "fitting in" with the surroundings.

Russ Wyatt, councillor for Transcona and chair of the Downtown (Winnipeg) development committee, was quoted in the Free Press then: "Some of the key things that we wanted to see was a facility which was not too obtrusive to the existing area, that would fit in an existing area, which has residential now and will have more residential in the future — but at the same time, bring life and activity to the waterfront street."

That's nice, but does anyone remember what other development plan for Waterfront Drive--some four blocks from the Alexander docks--was being welcomed with open arms at City Hall in July? Some kind of 40,000-seat football stadium?

A good example of why the City should never embarrass themselves by pretending to know or care one iota about urban context.

Red River looking south-west from Point Douglas, Nov. 2005

In any case, however much will to build there actually was (or was not), there was something remarkable and refreshing about Sen. Zimmer's plan: he was going to pay for it himself with private capital. No panhandling to school children for the future of Fort Douglas (or making fun of a rap song and video about the forts of Manitoba these same children made) was needed; he was going to do it himself.

Which is of course more than can be said of Sen. Zimmer's fellow Winnipeg patricians whenever they get an idea.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slow growth

I wrote this article and submitted it to the Uniter last month, but since they break from publishing in the Winter break, it did not appear until today's issue.


Lots of great ideas for Winnipeg's increasingly barren urban landscape, such as this view from corner of Martha Street and Pacific, but so little means to enact them. Summer 2008. Photo courtesy of 1ajs

"Latter decades of slow growth... have rendered Winnipeg a largely ghettoized and misanthropic place. In spite of the best intentions of planners, and a great, heart-warming pool of imagination, art, holistic initiatives and community economic development, the population of the old City of Winnipeg has declined by almost a third since 1972. The luckiest traditional commercial thoroughfares have been pock-marked by strip malls, while the worst off have disappeared almost entirely. Portage and Main, the historical, geographic and economic heart of the city, has been barricaded to pedestrians for 30 years. Banal new suburbs mushroom at the city’s fringe, while the bounds of the impoverished inner city also sprawl outward.

A good idea is nothing but an idea without money. The desire and ability of individuals to make money in Winnipeg is the only thing that built soaring warehouses and commercial blocks in the Exchange District, or the beautiful houses that sit on tree-lined streets in the West End. It is also the only thing that will able to restore and reuse these into their second centuries..."

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?

Monday, January 12, 2009

What did we just buy?

More inteptitude from the land of no bottom lines and other people's money...

West End Dumplings went over the WRHA's mess on Main Street, and brought up the WRHA getting a $500,000 tax subsidy. This made me wonder, if Council approved a $500,000 tax break on a development, shouldn't they know what that money is going toward?


Sounds like Crystal Developers are still around after being shooed away by the Friends of Upper Fort Garry last year, and are now planning a rental apartment complex in a more appropriate location: in the far-flung suburbs.

So now instead of a 15-storey apartment block downtown at the corner of Fort Street and Assiniboine Ave., Winnipeg will get a sprawling complex of four, five, and six storey blocks out along the Sterling Lyon Parkway.


[Edit] Speaking of the kinds of development Winnipeg really wants, how does 300,000 square feet of retail at Regent Avenue and Highway 59 (behind Kildonan Place mall, to be more precise), possibly later this year, sound?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Coming in off the wire...

Another day, another government group wanting to wreck the Exchange District...

Thanks to this blog's keen readers. This comment came in anonymously today.

"Manitoba infrastructure and transportation is thinking of developing the [Reiss] Fur building for their new office... It also involves tearing down an adjacent building for parking but then rebuilding the facade brick by brick. Also worrying is that in addition to cutting a new entrance into the existing facade they want to cut out the top corner of the uppermost floors for a garden terrace. This would happen on the main corner of the building on King i believe.
Its all very preliminary but i thought you might find it interesting."
Reiss Fur/Stobart building (1903), cor. King St. and McDermot. From U of M Building Index

The "adjacent building" would presumably be that textbook example of "demolition by neglect," the Ryan Block at King St. and Bannatyne.

To the battlements

So there was an architect behind the WRHA's Main Street monster after all.

Architect asks for patience on 'fortress' - WFP, Jan. 10, 2009

"Everybody should relax a bit and wait for the building to be finished," said [Verne] Reimer, a principal with Stantec Architecture."

And by "finished", does he mean once the banners are bolted on?
This rendering is of what is basically the same office and parkade being finished on Main today, but with banners--strategically placed to mitigate the parkade's vulgarity. A paper bag over the whole thing would be much more suitable.

I am not sure why impossible promises (like that the parkade "will look as attractive as commercial storefronts when construction wraps up this spring") continue to be made so late in the game. But in a city where everyone views things in hind-sight, and where city councillors who works four blocks away had no clue what was going on (one in his own ward, mind you), it's easy to get away with.

More spin [edit: or simply taking one for the team]:
"Plans for the complex went in front of the city's urban design advisory committee five times instead of the usual one or two reviews, Reimer said. "We wanted the building to fit in, esthetically and socially," he said. An ostentatious building would not be appropriate for a tenant like the WRHA, he added."

Was that the reason? Because the WRHA cares so much? Or because their design was rejected five times?

And wasn't it finally approved by the design advisory committee only when the it became poised to be a political issue?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Ever feel like Cassandra?

But I wasn't just predicting doom on Main Street, I was showing it three months ago.

I should point out that while the construction process had long before began, October 2008 was the first time I came across the actual drawing for the WRHA's offices on Main.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

There's no barricades on Seventh Ave. and Broadway

I would imagine Portage and Main had more of a "Times Square feel" when there were still buildings there (including actual theatres). What stood on the site of the city's biggest TV screen from 1950 to 1989 was the delightfully graceful Art Moderne Toronto Dominion bank building, which rounded out the corner of Portage and Notre Dame quite nicely.

To the shame of this city, the Toronto Dominion bank was demolished, not as part of the TD tower scheme--as the Child's, OH&N, and CNR buildings were--but after it was built, as this Flickr photo album of the demolition and building process shows. Allegedly, the out-of-town architects that designed the tower had planned the main entrance to be at the front of the building right at the NW corner of Portage and Main, but changed it when they found out that there was nothing at the NW corner but a concrete bunker. So the old TD building was demolished to make way for a new entrance and a plaza, which is now becoming a little more garish.

What does it say about the city's economic being when the nexus of that city is more physically sparse than it has at any time since the 1870s?

Manitoba Historical Maps

Perhaps the Curry Building across the street could be demolished to make way for the world's largest La-Z-boy recliner.


The editorial writer(s) at the Free Press ripped apart the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Main Street offices and parkade today.

"For all its travails, Main Street has never stopped being a place where people live, as well as work and the appearance of a behemoth parkade treats that as an afterthought."

But of course, the design's digression from dreadful to appalling is the fault of no one, and it's going to enjoyable watching the pointing match between Centre Venture, the City, the Province, WRHA, Stantec Architecture, and the construction company.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Saved for now

Sport Manitoba has backed away from its plans to demolish the Smart Bag Co. building, and this morning Council's Property Planning and Development committee voted unanimously to give the building a Grade III heritage designation. That is, until Sport Manitoba procures the funds to build phase two of their project...

WFP - "Sport Manitoba backs away from plan to demolish part of 125-year-old building"


I didn't know there were so many Objectivist Anarcho-capitalists in Winnipeg: they all seem to come out of the wood work to defend property rights and oppose state intervention in demolition plans, ie, heritage laws, whenever a heritage building is threatened. Unfortunately there are so few examples of this that are so black and white. As one anonymous commentator said in an earlier post:

"The "it's my building" proponents here - who I have some sympathy with - are missing an important point. Yes, the guy has the right to knock down his building to meet the needs of his client.

But we all know - come on, we KNOW - that the client isn't some guy off the street doing this to increase economic activity and invest in Winnipeg.

The intended tenant is Sport Manitoba, a creature of government, and I'd bet $100 that CentreVenture lured them north with some promise of incentives, once again financed by government, hoping to add another easy public deal to their thin list of announceable triumphs with other public agencies. Look again at the list: WHRA, Red River, and now Sport Manitoba?

If these 'clients' or 'buyers' or whoever (I assume Sport MB is working through a developer) didn't have public subsidies to make the deal work, would the owner of the building ever have bothered to empty out his tenants for this deal in the first place?

The real issue isn't poor owner's choices in the downtown; it's the buyer's choices.

And the buyer of choice is... US."

Kicking it up a notch

It sounds like Centre Venture has figured out what a tactical error it would be to be the ones who supported the demolition of the Smart Bag building at 145 Pacific Avenue. A house on Hargrave and Cumberland, sure. A block of historically insignificant but good commercial buildings and historically irreplaceable but dilapidated theatres on skid row, and no one will care.

But to demolish one of the oldest warehouses that is standing in good condition in what is seen by the public, is in physical nature, (yet not in political boundary) the Exchange District, that is going a bit too far, and is bad for optics. Lines like "Current building owner... and downtown development agency CentreVenture are expected to appear before the committee to argue in favour of the demolition..." in the Free Press don't look good--even for a government corporation that is about as transparent as a pile of rubble.

And so, Centre Venture is taking their East Exchange District parkade idea (not to be confused with their other parkade ideas) to another site nearby, possibly in conjunction with the Manitoba Museum and their phony demand.

The fate of the Smart Bag building is still very much in the balance today. And just as not demolishing a heritage building to build a parkade is good for optics, demolishing a heritage building for a parkade-free devolopment will be an easier sell on council. Councillor Fielding, for one, is nominally the most conservative voice yet still thinks playing Whac-a-mole with government-funded non-profits (and one less good building) counts for "new opportunities."

Approving the demolition of the Smart Bag Co. building would be a new precedent that would set heritage preservation efforts back about 20 years (not that Heritage Winnipeg hasn't done that themselves). This is a rather important structure historically and architecturally, and fire damage and neglect are not usable excuses. If the Smart Bag Co. building can go today, the Galt Warehouse can go tomorrow, and the Electric Railway Chambers the day after that.

Regardless of what is decided, these kind of threats to the integrity of the city's historical core will only increase while parking garages are more financially-lucrative than buildings, and where the pathetic zero-sum shuffling from office to office (do you think Sports Manitoba was given a wealth of subsidies to revitalize south Main Street a decade ago?) continues to be the norm.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A silk gym on a parkade's head

What's the best way to demolish a building in pristine condition--one of the oldest warehouses in the Exchange District--and replace it with a parkade? Talk about "ground-floor retail"? So 2008. The thing to do now: put a gymnasium on top of it.

That way, it need not be considered yet another parkade to dominate downtown's vast, gap-toothed and tragic landscape, but "a major recreation complex." When asked about a parkade being built, you can deny it out-right, just like Centre Venture is currently.

Prosperity Knitwear Co. building (1913), and the threatened Smart Bag Co. building (1884), seen from Alexander Ave.

Bartley Kives is right in his Free Press story that suggests "an inner-city rec centre would be an easier sell" than a parkade would be. Talk about redeveloping property, and you'll have the happy slaves to government-led "growth" amidst perma-stagnation (who pass for Council's "conservative" wing) on side. Talk about "accessibility" to the facility for low income people, and you've got the NDP Councillors and nearby Point Douglas poverty activists wrapped up.

Having the apparent approval of a toothless and silent Heritage Winnipeg doesn't hurt either.

What is actually planned to replace the 125-year-old Smart Bag Co. warehouse at 145 Pacific Ave., is a three-level parking garage with a gymnasium above it for "some kind of high-performance training centre" for Sport Manitoba, which will occupy the ironically-named Prosperity Knitwear building next door. A re-created brick facade will be "glued on to the side" on the north (Alexander Ave.) side of the parkade, which I'm sure will bear the same enduring beauty and craftmanship of the wrecked original.

Call it what you like, but this is still the destruction of an irreplaceable asset to Winnipeg's economic viability, for another parkade that does not need to be there.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Don't act surprised...

"From: rgalston@
Subject: 145 Pacific Avenue
Date: April 9, 2008 8:36:27 AM CDT
To: djorgenson@, jgerbasi@, donovan.fontaine@, petkau@, cindy@heritagewinnipeg

Dear admins of the Demolition By Neglect Facebook group,

I have learned from a local architect that the building at 145 Pacific Ave, a warehouse built in 1884, is threatened with demolition by a plan to for the purpose of building a parkade. The parkade will serve the future occupants of the Prosperity Knitwear building (1913) adjacent to it at Pacific and Lily (perish the thought we have a streetscape) with parking facilities of suburban proportions. The surviving building will have a one-storey addition that, in the words of my architect acquaintance, "looks like a new building eating an old one."

This building threatened is three stories, painted red, and is a modest product of its age. It would also be one of the oldest remaining warehouse buildings in the warehouse district. Both buildings also front Alexander Avenue. Both are only on the City's historical buildings inventory, which we all know is rather toothless. They should be on the conservation list.

He also informed me that there is a proposed project for Main Street that might demolish some buildings (he didn't say which) for a new one. (No, this isn't CV and WRHA!) This building will be in conjuction with a 10 or 12 storey condo tower in Chinatown (so I guess it's going to be somewhere on Main around there).

Anyway, I thought I should pass along this information early on. It seems this "wreck one heritage building to save another" ploy is becoming quite popular with developers.

Robert Galston"

Eight months later, and no response from anyone.

Then this today: The owner of 145 Pacific will be asking the City for a demolition permit on January 6th.

The plan is to tear down the 125-year-old structure and replace it with a parkade with a re-created brick wall on the north (Alexander Ave.) side--like a pale cartoon version of what stood there truly before.

Centre Venture's boss and downtown revitalization's preëminent philistine Ross McGowan somehow managed to convince the gang at Heritage Winnipeg that this was a good idea (yet HW is still registered to speak in opposition at City Hall on the 6th).

Apparently the building was constructed with railway ties that were leftover from the construction of Canadian Pacific's trans-continental railway.

How Heritage Winnipeg can get cajoled into supporting the demolition of one of the oldest warehouses in the city--one that is standing in good condition--might be something worth finding out.

It is already shaping up to be a banner year.

Ammunition for the parking lot preservationists?

What happens when it gets out that the vacant lot at The Forks, possibly developed as housing (and certainly developed as a Canadian Museum for Human Rights parkade) is sitting on an Aboriginal burial ground?

Randy R. Rotestki wrote in the Autumn 1977 issue of Manitoba Pageant:
"There is substantial evidence that an Indian burial ground existed in the area bounded by Water and Main to the north and St. Mary's and Fort Street to the south and west. This was formerly a portion of the Hudson's Bay Reserve...

"According to one 1876 account, an old resident stated that burials had taken place in the area as late as 1851. Furthermore, the area seems to have been centered in the space now falling between Water and Wesley Streets. Ham acknowledged this location by citing "tradition" in his book. While the western portion of this burying ground has been built and rebuilt upon with substantial structures, the section known as the East Yards has remained virtually untouched, save for the construction of rail lines since the 1890s. While the Indians had abandoned their burial ground with its shallow graves at the time of the beginnings of the village of Winnipeg, the area known as the "Flats" (now the "Yards") was known as a rather out of the way and disreputable part of the city. This reputation probably stemmed from the latent memory of a cemetery being there, and the area developed accordingly.