Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Cork and Flame Coming to St. James

It has been a while since the Nook and Cranny restaurant shut down in St. James. It was a second location for The Nook on Sherbrook with some added features such as a lounge. Around 2011 The Nook St. James opened but in the ever tough hospitality industry closed quietly last year. St. James is littered with some closed restaurant locations. Robin's, Mandarin and Gasthaus Gutenberg have all shuttered and remain closed.

The Nook and Cranny itself took over for the long running Schmeckers which had two locations and was the master of late nights for many years. The Big Schmeck would take a good long time to eat even for the ravenous. As for The Cranny, it seemed to be busy but running a restaurant is a seven days a week, at least two meals operation. And if you have a lounge, it means longer hours. It is backbreaking.

A sign along Portage Avenue says that Cork and Flame is coming soon. It has been up for a number of weeks now and contractor work vehicles have been outside all the time. The big trend lately for Winnipeg restaurants is a grill and it has seen some places in Charleswood transformed.

No word yet but will look to see the 350+ restaurant putting in the signage and opening soon.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Labatt's Broadway and Osborne

It used to be Manitoba's own Shea's but for many others it was remembered as the Labatt's beer plant across from the Manitoba Legislature. It was in 1953 the Shea's became Labatt's and the smokestack loomed large at Osborne Street and Broadway. It was Shea's that originally had the Clydesdale horses and Budweiser liked them so much he bought them and hired their Winnipeg trainer to come to St. Louis. Today's Budweiser Clydesdale horses are all descendants of the Winnipeg teams.

The name Labatt's Blue came from Winnipeg because fans of the Bombers and sportscaster Jack Wells kept calling the Pilsner "Blue" because of the label. The brewery eventually gave up and the name stuck as well as the connection to CFL football.

Old Exhibition Stadium was where the older of the two Great-West Life buildings is. For some time Great-West Life and Labatt's shared the land when the insurace company redeveloped the old stadium in 1957. The brewery had a beer store right on Osborne by the Great-West Life building entrance.

The Labatt's plant suffered a major fire in 1975 and in 1979 what remained was bulldozed setting up the expansion of Great-West Life into a second building. The new Labatt's plant was built in 1970 on Notre Dame and remained in operation till 1996.

One amazing view is in 1957-58 along Osborne Street where the smokestack of Labatt's can be seen along with the construction of the new Great-West Life building. Osborne Village looks like a real village. One thing I don't miss is all the hydro polls and trolley lines.

Kildonan Place Mall to Expand

The three large Sears locations have remained stubbornly closed at Polo Park, St. Vital and Kildonan Place. It stands to reason that all of them have been looking for a large size replacement or at the very least two retailers to share the holes left by Sears.

For Kildonan Place, it is second time looking for a replacement after Target closed in their mall. This triggered one of their largest and expensive makeovers that added H&M, Marshalls and several others to the space. The closure of Sears must have made them say "not again."

However, with this closure might have come opportunity. The original Kildonan Place built in 1980 had a Dominion grocery store. The stores closed in western Canada leaving malls like Polo Park and Kildonan  scrambling to fill the space. Polo Park got a larger Safeway and Kildonan just replaced with other stores.

Today's malls do not have a large line-up of other large retailers ready to jump in the moment a competitor falters. Heck, with the closures of Payless and HBC Home/Outfitters and others, there are a lack of even mid to small retailers ready in the wings.

The closure of Target and the takeover of Safeway by Sobey's has represented opportunities for grocers to enter the Manitoba market who are new or have been on a long hiatus. Co-Op stores via the Competition Act took over some Safeways and now operate three grocery stores in Winnipeg through Red River Co-Op. The Grant Park location is presently going through a major makeover. The other new entrant is British Columbia-based Save on Foods which took over McPhillips old Zellers location, the old Polo park Future Shop location and built a band new Bridgwater location.

As for the biggies. Extra Foods stores have been converted to franchise-owned No Frills stores and some Safeway/Sobey's stores are being converted Freshco grocery stores. It has all been a bit of a whirl. Suffice to say though that grocery stores still have a bricks and mortar presence even in a delivery world.

Kildonan Place's old Sears is set for a grocery conversion. Best guess by most people is a Save on Foods location based on exterior design although no name appears just yet.

The store would face out to Regent based on the designs being presented to the city this week. As big as the grocer is though, the mall had some extra space as well as ideas left. It would appear the back space facing out to Reenders will be a new space and an upgrade for Cineplex Odeon movie theatres. No word on whether it will be the same six theatres or more.

Another huge improvement will be the food court which has always been undersized given the square footage of the mall.

It will be quite a sizable food court when done and much more of a gathering spot than what presently exists.
The new mall will see changes to the back end parking as well as entrances to street but more landscaping as well.

There are a few other spaces for some larger retailers who now presently known yet. In terms of costs this expansions will be tens of millions and that is on top the millions spent to convert the old Target location. It is a complete affirmation of the owners in the space and the largest refresh done since the mall was built.

This is also a shot across the bow for Polo Park and St. Vital as Kildonan will be the first to fill its space where Sears left while the two larger cousins may enter yet another Christmas with empty retail.

The rumour is that both malls are ready to make announcements soon. In other words, it is game on but we'll see just how retailing is changing in what comes.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Netflix Review: The Code

One of the things that many mystery and thriller lovers have gravitated towards is Nordic Noir.  The international fare from Sweden, Norway and Iceland have gripped audiences world-wide. But is this type of noir only limited to the icy north? The Code from Australia would seem to disagree. It was produced in 2014 and Season 1 is on the Netflix now. One more season is expected to be added soon.

Canadians have enjoyed series from Australia before. We just don't see them as often as say Britain who eat up all content from down under. Netflix is now bring more Australian content than ever into Canada.

The plot of The Code is set around two brothers. One of the brother's is a political reporter for an online news organization and the other is an autistic hacker who is barely functional after brushes with the law. The journalist Ned played by Dan Spielman stumbles onto a story in the outback of an accident involving a death that has political implications all the way to the capital. Against his better judge Ned asks his brother Jesse played by Ashley Zukerman to use his skills to clean up a cellphone video that might shed some light on what happened. As per usual Jesse goes too far and while investigating further hacks into a site sensitive to the government setting off a trail of violence that follows the two brothers around. Jesse has a form of autism that makes his adept at computers and not so good with people. His journalist brother has always looked out for him through it has worn him down in terms of not having a life truly his own.

Creator Shelley Birse focuses on a deeply ingrained fear of what the security apparatus of the country has done to Australia's liberties. Canberra features almost like a character in the series for those who have really never seen the capital say versus Sydney. The other beautiful but fly ridden place featured is Broken Hill in New South Wales. It is out in the Outback where a suspicious accident leaves one teenager dead and other suffering an unknown malady.

A blonde Lucy Lawless is a teacher named Alex out in the town of Lindara in the Broken Hill area and senses something is deeply wrong and connects with Ned who has received a tip from an old flame working in the Deputy Prime Minister's office in Australia. Eventually a cellphone video reveals something more sinister took place besides a collision and that the government is involved. The video becomes a McGuffin with people pursuing it and trying to shut it down.

The series taps into a very deep seated fear that seems to permeate Australia about the government, police and intelligence services. If Canadians feel they fixate too much on the United States, they should see Australian TV. The Code builds up the paranoia and fear to a crescendo as the two brothers try to figure out and get out of the mess of cracking the computer code of a government linked Corporation called Physanto.

At six episodes, the series moves at a great clip and concludes with just a little bit of paranoia at the end to make it all worthwhile. A fun series shot in an area of Australia not usually seen in a noir like way not done nearly often enough in Australia. Try catching it if you like thrillers, espionage, conspiracy and murder.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Vita Health and Mark's Warehouse Coming to Linden Ridge

The last few areas of Linden Ridge mall are set to be developed in 2019. The new Lowe's will see two buildings constructed across from their parking lot. This is quite a coup for the mall as Kenaston Common just north of their location will be seeing a contraction as Payless ShoeSource and HBC Home close there. In all, three HBC Home and eight Payless will close in the city this year.

The new construction appears to be triggered by two major retailers locating in Linden Ridge namely Vita Health and Mark's Warehouse.

Both retailers should find a market for their goods in the growing area.

Once the buildings are complete, Linden Ridge will be more or less fully developed in their very slow and steady approach over the last few decades.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Union Bank Building in 1904

A few interesting things to note about the construction of the Union Bank Tower in 1904. The first is that they appear to fill in the floors from the middle rather than the bottom. My speculation is that because they constructed this skyscraper without a crane, they needed to bring in building material though both the first three floors and up inside the structure. That, in addition to, a pully system on the outside.

Pretty much all horses up and down Main Street at this time. Streetcars were not allowed in the downtown area even though the first electric ones appeared by the 1890s further down Main Street. City council was against the electric lines and when they did finally approve construction, used a bigtime railway company rather than the local who built the system in the first place. Bribes were suspected.

The luxurious Leland Hotel is seen behind the Union Bank building. It was destroyed in a fire in this century after being abandoned.

Today's Union Bank building in now a vital part of Red River College's downtown campus serving as residence and home for the culinary arts school.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Portage and Main 1960

In 1960 Winnipeg still had trolley buses but five years earlier there were still streetcars throughout the city. The middle two lanes were replaced with cars along Portage and Main Streets as well as all over the city.

Polo Park was just a year old and still not yet enclosed. The city was not unified and other cities like St. Boniface and St. James were part of the urban conglomeration with some basic services covered by Metro Winnipeg but everyone had their own city halls, police and fire departments.

Not seen in this picture is the fact that the present site of the Richardson building had been largely a car station and parking lot for a few decades already. It was also filled with billboards that could be seen all the way down Portage Avenue. Construction of the Richardson building would not start for another eight years.

The Nanton building can be seen in the background flying the Red Ensign of Canada. The new flag for Canada featuring a maple leaf was still five years away, There are also flags of France flying which gives an indication that this may have been taken around Remembrance Day as so many Manitobans had their final resting place in that country as a result of two wars. In many ways Canada was still very much British in its establishment although Manitoba itself had quite a lot of European diversity as well as Metis and First Nations. We also had many re-located Japanese Canadians from the war fifteen years earlier. The first Filipinos started coming to Canada mostly doctors in what what would become a steady flow of immigrants from that country.

 Winnipeg was still very much the biggest city in the prairies at the time. Only Vancouver rivaled in the west. Rail still ruled compared the flying. And highways all over were nothing to get excited about. Most were two lanes.

Cars themselves, however as you can see from the picture, were getting bigger as gas was plentiful and cheap. Most neighbourhoods had a few gas stations and mechanics in them and that included downtown where an abundance of repair shops existed.

Winnipeg like much of Canada had an increasing amount of confidence that only built as the country neared its 100th birthday,

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Rec Room Seasons of Tuxedo Under Construction

The Rec Room restaurant and gaming center is under construction beside the Hyatt Hotel building site. It isn't where I first thought it would be. I had always presumed it to be on the north side of Sterling Lyon.

At the moment they are putting down pylons into the frozen ground for building foundation. Meanwhile the Hyatt Hotel has reached its final height and is beginning to fill in each floor.

Rec Room from Cineplex will re-write the rules on an entertainment site when it is complete and is likely to draw many young people to the area.

There are still some gaps to be filled on the south side of the Seasons of Tuxedo site but these latest developments should attract other tenants.

More of the Rec Room when it nears opening day in this year,

Friday, February 22, 2019

Home Outfitters/HBC Home to Close - Sak's Off 5th Might Close

HBC announced that Home Outfitters across Canada will close. At one time there used to be near 70 stores across Canada but that number has dropped to 37 and 700 employees. In Winnipeg in 2016, HBC converted three Home Outfitters to Hudson Bay Home and the concept was supposed to spread across Canada. Those locations were Kenaston, Regent and St. James.

It is interesting to note that the St. James location once housed Linens and Things which failed years ago taking Canada's 55 stores along with it. Sadly, it and the other two location HBC locations will be liquidated along with Home Outfitters.

Winnipeg's two major malls at Polo Park and St. Vital are still looking for the perfect fit for their former Sears stores. And more store space is being built even as companies like HBC and Sears close stores. Other retailers as well are closing across Canada including Winnipeg. More on that in another post.

It would be easy to blame Amazon as online retailing has indeed created problems. However, the simple fact is that too many stores can also hurt your business model. Companies like Disney, Lego and IKEA have fewer stores and offer experiences that stand out. They become destinations in and of themselves.

The more interesting announcement by HBC was not that Home Outfitters was closing but that they were closing 20 Sak's Off 5th stores in the U.S. and re-evaluating the whole company. HBC has so far affirmed confidence in Winnipeg's store at Outlet Collection of Winnipeg. It is unknown how profitable the store is in Seasons of Tuxedo.

The Seasons of Tuxedo is continuing to fill in with stores, entertainment and services. But it is also filling in with residents. Thousands of people now live on site. It will be interesting to see if this helps business in the area as they have a resident population within steps of the mall.

In 2019 though it would appear landlords are going to have to struggle to fill space. It could be we see some rent decreases and sub-dividing space to make it more palatable. We also might see some local concepts take off in this new landscape.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Festival du Voyageur

These pictures from the Festival du Voyageur site show Fort Gibraltar and part of the festival site. At 50 years, the festival is one of the largest and oldest festivals during winter in Canada.

Louis Riel Day is now a good addition to the celebrations in its 11th year. Many families take in the ice sculptures and maple shack, music and the fort.

Happy Louis Riel Day to everyone!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Konz: Pizza Cones Coming to Cityplace

Pizza Cones are coming to Winnipeg to the Cityplace food court. The western-based franchise Konz has 10 locations and is presently under construction in Winnipeg. The main menu item is as it sounds: pizza in the form of a cone. Various pizza recipes and toppings in a hand held cone.

The price for this delicacy is $6.99 and is likely to be gobbled up by the hockey and concert crowds. It will also be of interest to the considerable lunchtime crowds Cityplace sees every day as people move from building to building.

Expect an opening very shortly.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Netflix Review: Occupied

The one thing that Netflix has accomplished with great success is making international fare available world-wide. Long in the past this was pretty much exclusively the domain of CBC and PBS and more recently cable. Generally though, international meant from the U.K. and in English such as Coronation Street and Masterpiece Theatre.

Netflix started in Canada as a streaming service in 2010 and nine years later has become one of the biggest distributors of international fare in the country. It is a far cry from their beginnings when it was majority Hollywood and no original material. That would come slowly in 2012.  Still, Canadians were more apt to game their connection to Netflix by getting their signal from the U.S and that was for years. There was just far more in their library. It was only when Americans tried to get Netflix Canada that this stopped as the company shut it down. In 2019 Canada has the third largest library for Netflix and in some cases material U.S. Netflix clients want but can no longer get because of licensing.

Canadians watch a lot of Netflix and often look for binge worthy series. We in Canada are more likely to watch a subtitled series whereas a lot of Americans will pass it by. One series which was rarely reviewed outside of Europe but has had fans in Canada is Norway's Occupied. Two seasons are available now and a third is in production for a total of 18 so far. The creator is multi-talented Jo Nesbo, an internationally best selling author of mysteries some of which have been made into Hollywood movies.

Season 1 of  Occupied came out in 2015 and seems prescient considering today's political climate. In the year it arrived Barrack Obama was President, Britain was not in the midst of Brexit, NATO was solid and relationships across a broad range of areas seemed more stable. In the series though Norway is recovering from a rather catastrophic time with global warming which allows the Green Party to take over. The United States has turned its back on Europe and NATO and is now energy self sufficient. The Middle East is in conflict.

Norway develops a new technology based on nuclear power and the Greens make the decision to end oil production while promoting the cleaner energy to the world. Europe is suffering an energy crisis and give Russia the green light to seize Norwegian energy platforms and pipelines in a velvet mostly bloodless military invasion. The oil must flow! And all the while Russia tightens its grip on Norway.

This is the world introduced in less than half an episode and it leaves you on edge of your seat. During World War II Germany invaded and occupied Norway. There were those that fought the occupation and those that cooperated. The word Quisling originates in Norway and was the name of the prime minister who collaborated with the Germans and was executed for his crimes after. Today Quisling in any language means traitor.

And so it goes in this modern Norway. There are those who work with the Russians and those who work against.  However, it is never black and white and characters can go through various phases because the actual occupation is something that slowly envelopes Norwegian society.

Occupied has drawn attention because of how gripping it is but also how prescient. The Russian occupation in Norway looks so similar to how Russia took over Crimea in the Ukraine. However, the show was filmed and aired before this ever happened! There was real anger in the Kremlin in regards to the series of how inflammatory it was.  This has to be seen in the context of the Little Green Men who appeared in Crimea and were made out to be locals when in fact they were Russian military.

Over two seasons and 18 episodes Occupied follows an ensemble cast whom I won't name here but I will say they are as top notch as you will find in film and TV. The language ranges from Norwegian to Russian to English but is all subtitled. The show is glossy and is as good or better than any thriller, political or spy series out there. For some it might be as satisfactory or better than Homeland or Jack Ryan.

A third season is planned but Netflix has not committed to air it. Seems that few in Canada have reviewed or are even aware of how good this series in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Master's of London and Control Escape Close in Charleswood

Master's of London has ads up in the news and in their windows that the store is closing. It was the store that took over the Charleswood Department Store's site after the owner passed away after decades in business. The owners of Master's were not new to retail either. They had owned stores in other locations such as Tuxedo and Grant Park for years before moving onto Roblin Boulevard in Old Charleswood.

It is not certain why the business is closing but suffice to say that retail is tough and the right location in one place might not be the right location elsewhere. The sale continues but suspect the actual door closing could be soon.

Another Charleswood business to close is Control Escape, one of the city ubiquitous escape rooms.

If anyone was thinking that the city might be hitting maximum amount of escape rooms this was probably an indication. It did not even make a year in their location right beside the Co-Op gas.

Old Charleswood had nearly come to fully leased in the past year but now their gaps. Lowey Insurance recently took the opportunity to expand into the retail store beside it. And one chiropractor business closed only to be replaced by another.

It will be interesting to see what goes up where Master's of London is. It is awkwardly placed and may not be the best spot for a large retail or restaurant business. The time might have come to subdivide it.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Portage and Main 1978

The construction of the Concourse under Portage and Main was a massive undertaking costing tens of millions of dollars in 1978. It arrived just in time for the recession of 1980 where Winnipeg took it on the chin like no other time since the war.

The Trizec building that had just gone up sat largely empty for a few years after it was built and the additional plans for another tower and hotel evaporated. Today the tower has been re-skinned and has a Toronto Dominion logo sporting from the top. It has lost some key tenants to the True North Square but has landed news ones in the accounting and legal firms. A residential tower is going up and will continue to in 2019. By the end it will be the tallest tower in Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, the Concourse is 40 year piece of infrastructure that is falling apart above ground and below and leaks. Street crossing has been rejected but this corner now does not the meet the standards for accessibility, safety or for 24 hour access with various parts closed to public after hours.

One day it will be condemned or worse collapse.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Drop in Dance Winnipeg Open

The former location of Loewen Piano House on north Portage had sat empty for a while very close to Rae And Jerry's at 1381 Portage. This area has always been a vital commercial area marked by music stores such as St. John's and Quest as well as dog, cat and fish shops and pizza restaurants sitting side by side. It was sad to see Loewen close. The days of boutique family piano stores in the vein of J.J.H McLean seem to be on the wane.

I had seen the windows papered over some time ago and new something was coming but last night while driving to a meeting, the lights were blazing and the sign stood out as Drop In Dance. And inside a busy hive of people in studio beyond in silhouette. On a very cold February with an army of snow clearing equipment on the streets, people were dropping in and dancing.

The concept of this business is in its name. It is a place that people can drop in for classes or renting the studio for dance. And clearly people in Winnipeg love to dance. There are dance schools throughout the city and performances and competitions constantly. Many of these schools and studios are in the suburbs. It would seem that a drop in studio is just perfect for Portage Avenue being on a major route with bus service, parking and residential neighbourhoods in proximity.

On a dark and cold night in the city, Drop In Dance radiated warmth and activity. And what more could want want for Portage Avenue?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

True North Square

The True North Square continues to develop. The TDS law firm is already in place with three floors occupied and MNP accounting and Scotiabank are ready to go. Ceridian has announced they are moving their 200 payroll people into 242 Hargrave as well. This would constitute over 50 per cent leased and more coming.

The office building that lost the most at 360 Main Street (formerly Trizec but now sporting a TD Bank logo) has picked up Wellington Altus financial services, BDO accounting and IGM part of Investors Group. Taylor McCaffrey is moving to 201 Portage (former TD/Canwest building).

It means gaps in other buildings but the growth in e-commerce is filling space here and there and landlords are upgrading buildings to fit the needs of tenants looking to re-locate or expand.  The second office tower of of the True North development appears to be going through finishing touches inside.

Meanwhile, the True North Square has hosted one event for the Winnipeg Jets. First impressions are that it probably will serve for some street party and other events but will be reserved for sponsors and special events. The street parties simply have too many people and Donald Street is likely to remain most suited.

The overpasses and second floor area seem ideally in support of moving people around and supporting local tenants. While the towers do have underground parking, those coming for BellMTS events will be approaching from every direction. Everyone should keep in mind that the ground being built on has been a parking lot for decades.

The final component to the four towers built is the Sutton Place Hotel and condo complex. They will complete the True North development. The hotel itself will probably leapfrog to become the most top rated hotel in downtown Winnipeg and possibly home to visiting NHL teams when they play in the city. It will also be another support for the expanded RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre.

Once all the work is completed in next 18 months or so, it is likely we'll see a lull as Winnipeg's business community settles into their new places with some exceptions. The stalled and probably dead Skycity development sits on some choice land. The site across from the Canadian Human Rights Museum will probably also have an announcement soon.

Could this be the year the Winnipeg Jets celebrate their biggest victory on the streets and square surrounding bring tens of thousands of fans downtown? Here's hoping.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Gas Station at Portage and Main Street

1940s Portage and Main with the gas station that would occupy the space where the Richardson building is for decades. The iconic corner did not see major change until 1969.

Movie Review: The Girl in the Spider's Web

To say The Girl in the Spider's Web is related to the same book written by David Lagercrantz as a continuation of Stieg Larsson's trilogy Millennium series would be a stretch. Sure writer/director Fede Alvarez used characters from the fourth book and referenced the initial trilogy but the plotline is only very loosely based on what the book is about. Additional screenwriting by Jay Basu and Steven Knight rounded out all the writers who would eventually have a hand in bringing the story to the screen. It didn't help.

David Lagercrantz has written two books featuring characters from the original Stieg Larsson trilogy. They are NOT Stieg Larsson but were sufficiently well thought out thrillers that delved more into the history of the girl Lisbeth Salander and her relationship with journalist Mikael Blomquist. They were worthy successors in the absence of the now diseased Larsson (although it might have been interesting to see what this unpublished fourth manuscript that he wrote).

The original trilogy had been adapted by Sweden for a feature film/television broadcast and was wonderfully cast and adapted for the screen. Likewise, an American adaption by David Fincher was extremely well done and made the top 10 lists for film the year it came out. Both Sweden and the U.S. had a box office hit. The lack of any U.S. follow-up has been confounding but it may have been about not being able to get the whole cast back together at the same time for sequels. Daniel Craig, for one, had James Bond commitments that would have been harder to work around.

Rooney Mara who had played Lisbeth Salander in the American feature was ready to go again but ultimately the decision was to go with a younger cast and skip book two and three and go with a soft re-boot of the series using David Lagerantz's book The Girl in the Spider's Web. Initial casting on the award-winning Claire Foy of Netflix's The Crown seemed promising. The rest of the cast seemed capable, quite young and altogether too pretty. Even Plague was more adorable than anyone might have expected if they knew the books.

The big failure wasn't the casting though it was the writing that went off book in more ways that one. They essentially created an entirely new storyline that can only be loosely connected to Lagerantz's book or the trilogy. It seems the script is built on set action pieces that don't appear in the book and it comes at the expense of any character building. Almost all of the characters are cardboard cut-outs. There is zero chemistry between any of them!

I think a key mistake is for Lisbeth Salander's memory of her sister coming back in snippets. This is what Mikael Bloomquist's quest is. It is also in keeping with his investigative journalist profession. Salander is a cipher because any time she has tried to tell her story, it has hurt her. We get to know her by her actions. Through Blomquist's investigation of her actions, we get her back story.

The Girl in the Spider's Web was the biggest box office failure the series has ever seen. I won't go on anymore about its failures. Suffice to say that I hope that the Swedes do a version that does it justice.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Winnipeg Art Gallery/U of W Housing

The 14 storey Art District renderings above. Taking over a parking lot and retail strip mall containing Perth's and Dessert Sinsations immediately behind University of Winnipeg's other 14 storey residential unit. The 119 suite complex faces out to the corner of St. Mary Avenue and Colony Street. The building.

The whole housing project is made possible from a federal loan of around $26 million. With a similar loan for the the 102 suite Downtown Common apartment built in 2016 behind the Buhler Centre, the total amount of money comes to around $51 million. The University of Winnipeg is responsible for paying. Presumably, the varied rent and other supports will pay the loan off.

The new as well as the 2016 apartment are for students, faculty and are designed to for income levels that are low income to high. It is a new concept rather than bunching certain income levels together. Going up an elevator there, no one is aware of whether it is a premium renter or someone who has income assistance. It is an experiment to see whether this lifestyle creates a community interested in better care of their environment. In other words, is it a good place to live for everyone there.

The Commons featured some balconies for some suites as noted in the picture above. The Art District will feature a terrace for residents several floors up.

The terrace will have quite a few for students. No word on the amenities for it but I'd gather a bbq and other seating and socializing arrangements. Both buildings are white which follows a pattern all the way back from the Buhler Centre, through the Commons to the new Art District.

One of the good things about the apartments is that they filled areas used for parking or low density retail. There is little doubt that more housing for University of Winnipeg students has been needed for years.

The name Art District is being adopted for the apartment and although at the onset, it looks like musicians are more the focus, it shouldn't be lost on anyone that next door is the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In 2020, a four storey expansion to the WAG will be complete costing $65 million and adding 40,000 square feet to the existing building. The new wing will house the Inuit Art Centre.

Things are so spread out in Winnipeg that it takes a long time to connect the pieces. The U of W and WAG have been set apart as islands for so long. Now they have reached out and are beside each other now. It is difficult to imagine it not being part of future synergies.

It used to be Winnipeg was one step forward two steps back as one crisis after another meant neighbourhood collapse if not acted on. There are still major problems to deal with but less of the buildings being demolished, fewer surface lots being created that defiantly are a thin layer of bumpy gravel and areas such as The Forks or the BellMTS Place that people are likely to be found in strong numbers.

Affordable housing is a huge issue and it is good that is being looked at. It doesn't help to revitalize an area and not have people who can't pay for the overpriced and oversized spaces created. Having a mix of people in a building with good security creates residential safety and price. More street activity from places like Stella's and other shops makes sure people are always around. The old saying there is safety in numbers is not wrong. One of the things that generally makes The Forks better is that there is always activity happening. Harder to misbehave if it is where multiple folks will call you on it and hold you accountable.

It will be interesting to see if the U of W and Winnipeg Art Gallery buildings don't have a corresponding business and residential bump afterward.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Winnipeg Fire and Winter Cold

Winnipeg emergency services in deadly winters cold is a pretty miserable task. And a deadly one as well. Over the years Winnipeg firefighters have been hurt or killed trying to do their jobs. In recent weeks we have seen several residential apartment hit by fire and in some cases the damage looks greater than the structure can withstand. The heavy ice on a burnt out building is something to behold.

And so it was in 1987 when the Young United Church kitty corner to Broadway and Sherbrook Street burned down a few days after Christmas services on December 27. Most of the church was destroyed save for one tower which remains to this day.

In the 1980s many of the residential buildings in this areas had been converted to rooming houses. It was a tough area and on the verge of collapse as crime and arson plagued the area. Violence was common. Young United served this community as poverty and despair looked to move further west into Wolsely and down Sherbrook and Maryland towards Misericordia Hospital.

Alcohol was a huge factor but ritalin mixed with other things became a problem as a street drug. Police were up and down Furby and Young Street near the church not to mention ambulances and fire trucks. It was not difficult to see the entire city at the cusp of failure as the 1980 recession dragged.

In this time money was poured in from the Core Area Inititative, The Forks was just about to kick off as well as North Portage with Portage Place, Investors Group etc. Still, it was easy to feel like it was putting one finger in a dike only to have something else happen and not being able to stop the flood.

I walked past Young United Church regularly from 1983 to 1988 and again in the 1990s. If you missed the Academy bus, it was possible to walk from the The Bay and into River Heights before the next one came. Many times I just walked back from University of Winnipeg to home as a matter of course.

The church was a beautiful building. A few churches in the area were like that though. You just took it for granted. When I started back to school in January in my final year at U of W, the icy remains of the church looked incredible. However, the loss of the church itself struck me even though it was never one I attended.

One tower was preserved and the re-built but there was no way to restore the glory of the old building. I miss it. The above picture is from 1966. As you can see there has been a Shell station on the corner for decades. The top picture from 1987 shows gas was 39.9 cent a litre.

At least there were no human fatalities in the fire at Young United. In so many other cases in winter fires, firefighters and citizens have lost their lives.