Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ellice Liquor Store

Ellice Liquor Store

Ellice Liquor Across from Centrepoint
The schism between urban and suburban has been growing for many years now. Politically, culturally and economically the differences are becoming easier to see and harder to reconcile.

The war between urban and suburban is played out in the anonymous comment section of the Free Press and CBC every day. A lot of those comments have to be tossed because they amount to personal attacks or cross into intolerance based on any number of factors.

In addition, the limited amount of characters of Twitter are ideal for snark and it is generally easy to heckle and be boorish when done anonymously.

What is generally seen in regards to suburban commentary on urban areas is that people there are all scumbags and criminals. The urban commentary generally runs along the lines that suburban people are selfish users and takers.

Thoughtful commentary is often shunned for one liners.

The fact of the matter is that if a city is to function well, all of it has be to considered not just one tiny corner of it. The solution isn't to just keep fleeing farther and farther till the city reaches provincial borders. Nor is the solution to bulldoze large swaths of the city to create some sort of doughnut hole.

That is not to say that some bulldozing can't, shouldn't and won't happen. While some mourn the loss of the Wagon Wheel restaurant, the objective of a higher density mixed use land covering almost one block is excellent. The fact of the matter is the block in question has been under utilized the last decades despite some private efforts, specifically when it comes to the hotel/A&B Sound/MTS Exhibition Hall.

Long standing businesses shut down such Discreet Boutique or moved like Wild Planet. The complaint of their owners and those of Kraut King about aggressive street life was that it was driving them out. Happy to report that the former Kraut King location at 295 Garry Street is impressing as the Famena's Famous Roti/Curry and even out of town guests are writing glowing reviews.

But look what is just down the street from Famena's...

Famena's Famous Roti-Curry
The Garrick Hotel's clients are generally on the sidewalk out front most likely as a result of the smoking laws.

This little block seems to struggle. Sonar Night Club shut down and is now a gay club called Fame. Aqua Books shut down. A few storefronts remain stubbornly vacant.

Connection to Garrick? Think many would say it is.

For this reason, CentreVenture has been on a crusade to rid the downtown of small drinking establishment based out of hotels. They have bought a few over the years and that process has accelerated with the construction around the Winnipeg Convention Centre.

I have no problem with confronting drinking establishments that cause trouble. If you have murders inside or outside the establishment, chances are you need to look at how things are run. And it doesn't have to be down and out dive bars. It could be nightclubs that attract a bad element along with its regular crowd. It could be hotels, it could be sports facilities.

Public drunkenness and aggressive panhandling can't be ignored and there does seem to be more patrols on the street to address this issue. However, the police in the city have been lukewarm on community work and still favour cruiser cars.

This is what one retired city cop had to say:

The problem was, general patrol (the officers in cars), considered the ownership officers glorified social workers and would not only avoid having anything to do with them, but would resist helping out when transportation of a drunk was needed, or the transportation of an arrested person or just any kind of assistance.
Was it just me who felt this? No. When we got together, all 20 of us had occasion to run into resistance from our sergeants and from general patrol (there were a few exceptions)
At the end of the day, crime and the perception that downtown is unsafe will die down if the police foot patrol is constantly there, always watching, always ready to stop a crime, move a drunk to the tanks, arrest an assailant.
That is pretty harsh stuff. Officer needs assistance being ignored due to the fact they think he is a social worker?

The work has been handed over to cadets as kind of a way to earn your stripes to police constable and a car. And perhaps this is the cheaper way to do it. Still, you wonder if there is strong value in having ground coverage for problem areas by the Winnipeg Police Service itself in a meaningful way.

Serious questions are mounting about the costs of policing and the promises that crime will drop for every 50 officers hired.

The amount of overtime, ticket quotas and higher crime respective to the rest of the country gives people pause. I am no expert in policing but hearing some officers say they didn't feel supported seems to indicate a conflict inside the organization.

Which brings us back to the Ellice Liquor Store. Is this store the source of problems in the area? And by this I mean: Is the store itself a source of public drunkenness and panhandling?

I can't answer that. I don't know. I won't go into the greater issues of alcohol, poverty and homelessness. My question is more specific: is this store the cause of trouble surrounding the area or it is a mere inconvenience for a nice new development across the street?

If the answer is yes, the store is the source of the first answer not to serve intoxicated customers, patrol the parking lot and seek assistance from police in ensuring public security?

The Ellice Liquor Store, celebrated in song by a ska group in the last years along with the Royal Albert Hotel, has a small parking lot that seems to serve downtown commuters intent on quick service. This cannot be fulfilled by Cityplace with a mall location. Likewise, there are many apartments and condos going up in the area who probably might find things like a local liquor store convenient.

It is a fine balancing act that CentreVenture does but it is worth remembering that Osborne Village has had its share of ups and downs but the liquor mart was not driven out. The client base changed over the years and the location there reveals a full realized neighbourhood with grocery, drug marts and liquor store for the community.

Centrepoint under construction. Liquor just north
Kudos to the Longboat and Artis for their investment across from the MTS Centre. The offices of Stantec Engineering, the Alt Hotel, Glasshouse Condos, parkade and restaurants Milestone's and Chino Libre are going to be the biggest thing to hit Portage Avenue in decades.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves by clearing out places like the Ellice Liquor Store before seeing how one development interacts with established businesses.

Downtown Winnipeg will be won over one block at a time. Some of it will be organic such as Famena's carving out a home on Garry Street. Other times, it will be a development like Centrepoint transforming a larger area.  Let's give it all careful consideration as we proceed. But while we do it, let's make sure we have the people on the ground to ensure security and civility.

What makes you feel safer, a police car headed west down Portage Avenue or two patrols walking down the street? If the answer is the latter, should that not be what we are doing more of?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lovecats (acoustic/unplugged) - The Cure

A little late for Valentine's Day but a great song about love cats from The Cure.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Desperate Plea for Grocery Stores

Urban Fare Yaletown, Vancouver

Sobey's Urban Fresh, Jasper Avenue, Edmonton

Sobey's Express  Roncesvalles, Toronto
A desperate plea is rising from people downtown and immediate surroundings. The closing of three grocery stores even in neighbourhoods that seems to have housing such as Notre Dame and on Main Street is accelerating.

Today's Free Press had a contribution from a resident of a senior's apartment behind Portage Place who sounded the alarm.
Over the last several months, we have lost the Wagon Wheel, the Paddle Wheel, Zellers, including its grocery store, the youth hostel, the NRC Centre, and several and sundry smaller venues within the Portage Place complex.
We are fast becoming inundated with the losses.
Add to that the Winnipeg Film Group and Gio's niteclub in the last day.

Now, some of this is not all negative. The Wagon Wheel makes way for a fairly expansive and innovative mixed use of offices, hotel, parking, restaurants and condos. We can be sad for the end of an era but happy about the possibilities on a boutique hotel and condos might bring.

Gio's appears to be making way for some development...possibly apartments. This is a good thing. Gio's has had a few locations over the years. The takeover of their present location was made possible by the closure of a pizza joint and the fact of so much empty land. Hard times made for a good spot to operate and the gay and lesbian community now find that their efforts to bring people downtown have made their property valuable for other urban reclamation projects.

I suspect that Gio's will find a way to come back, perhaps to some place along Portage Avenue although one blogger suggested the Free Press Cafe.

The Winnipeg Film Group is also looking to move. Part of it is expansion mode but some is not. This is what appeared in The Uniter.
...surveys have shown concerns about parking and night-time safety are preventing Winnipeggers from attending screenings.
Night-time safety. Not good. I don't think theaters goers for screenings downtown are overly sensitive either.

Just one more indication that increasing the feeling of safety and security must continue.

It isn't an impossible task. The Forks is generally considered safe and not part of downtown. We need to increase that envelope of security through better lighting, more patrols and better planning.

It is easy to feel insecure and vulnerable if the lighting is poor, sight-lines are awful and where there is little pedestrian traffic.

But back to grocery stores...

We are seeing more people move downtown. Waterfront Drive now boasts a population where none existed five years ago. Hotels are being converted back to apartments and condo conversions are taking places in warehouse space and offices. New apartments are coming as well.

And yet fewer choices or no choices for grocery stores.

It seems to me that if the government ends up having to take over The Bay downtown, it would do well to go out of their freaking way to make sure that a Sobey's Express, a Safeway or any other grocer out there be located in the basement. They would probably love to be a in large government building.

Moreover, perhaps a few restaurants wouldn't mind being in the building at ground floor as well. If and when The Bay takes flight, the worst thing would be if the whole 600,000 feet becomes government offices and you need to go through security checks just to enter the parkade.

We NEED grocery stores if urban living is to succeed. Osborne Village is partly the success it is today because it has a large Safeway in the center of it.

If downtown condos can get a tax break, maybe a large new grocery store can too.

Otherwise, we are going to have a migration out of the urban areas of the city despite best intentions.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Royal Bank Building

220 Portage Avenue Royal Bank Building
Artis, the Winnipeg-based owner of what most Winnipeggers know as the Trizec building, looks to gobble up another Portage Avenue property in a deal that will cost $40 plus million. The property in question is one of Winnipeg's oldest modern office towers at 220 Portage Avenue: Royal Bank Building.

The tower pre-dates the Richardson Building and was built in 1966 and stands 17 stories. It was last renovated in a major way in 1997 and has had award winning energy savings upgrades in the last few years. The blue chip tenants are Royal Bank as well as some grain companies, accountancy firms and lawyers.

While the building has no parking, it is connected to 360 Main Street (Trizec) and the three level underground parkade. Likewise, the building opens onto the Concourse, Portage and Main and Winnipeg Square.

Armin Martens runs Artis but he is no stranger to Winnipeg real estate. The Martens family has owned Marwest within the family for years and has developed many a property in the city.

With the Royal Bank building joining the Artis fold, there is very little now at Portage and Main that is not owned by a Winnipeg company (aside from the historic Bank of Montreal branch at 335 Main Street).

Artis is working with the Chipman family's Longboat to develop the property north of the MTS Centre. It is likely this isn't the last work we have seen from either company in developing property in this vicinity.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Paula Havixbeck

Paula Havixbeck
There has been a lot of cheering for Paula Havixbeck in the last while after her stand on the city budget. Sam Katz gave her the heave ho and suggested she was difficult to work with and the reason she was off the Executive Policy Committee was because she changed her mind on issues that she had previously convinced her colleagues on.

It was suggested Justin Swandel left EPC because he wanted to chew his own arm off rather than be in the same room with the councillor from Charleswood-Tuxedo. In the last few years, Swandel has been a tad tetchy and has not suffered critics lightly. He probably hates Havixbeck more than any other city elected official there is.

The thing he doesn't like about Havixbeck is she has questioned the way council does things. She resigned from the police chief selection committee when it was revealed that Phil Sheegl alone would make the choice. It was likely that alone made her a source for scorn from Katz and Swandel.

Swandel does not like doing laundry in public. He has said it is not the way things are done.

The problem as we have seen is that these behind closed doors decisions can come back to haunt you. The fire hall issue struck many people as side stepping oversight, consultation and an actual vote. It was presented as a "done deal."

City Circus showed a speech by Havixbeck and it wasn't of an unhinged and hysterical woman as Katz and his insiders might have wanted to portray. The sad fact is that we had a tax increase at the same time the council was choosing to have their budgets increased. Special funds for council and the mayor to spend as they wish seem more attuned to getting re-elected than meeting budget responsibility.

There is room for policy and staff support for council. They need support in terms of keeping aprrised of what is happening in the city. The administation running roughshod over elected officials will deepen if councillors don't have the right information and policy options. The problem is an increase in budget to fund pet projects is left in place making the whole thing unpalateable.

Havixbeck has pointed this out among other things. And she has gotten turfed.

I did not vote for Paula Havixbeck. I felt she was too connected to the Progressive Conservatives and was too much the choice of Katz and supporters. They must have felt the same since when she was elected, she was escorted to the big table that other councillors can only dream of. And now she stands on the outside.

My one dealing with Paula Havixbeck was in regard to sub-standard asphalt on Sterling Lyon Drive in front of the new IKEA. Like many drivers, I felt it was not a good job and I called the councillor to take a look for herself. I got a hold of her assistant.

The response after that was a curious one. I received a call from 311 giving me the contact number for the contractor. I thought: what?

Still, not ones to let it rest, I called the contractor and was told they felt the asphalt was good as it was. I asked if an inspector had looked at it. The contractor said no but that in the new year (as it was getting too cold to do any continued road work), work would resume in and around the area. I was told they would look into the matter then and that an inspector would sign off on the work. I said I didn't think the work would pass muster and in the end, it didn't.

The asphalt along Sterling Lyon was scraped down and re-done.

I can't say my Councillor helped in this matter.  And I was surprised my number was handed to 311 when I didn't call them.

In the end, I acted myself and to the contractor's credit, they re-did the work.

Now, this was early on in Havixbeck's term. I realize there is a learning curve but I was disappointed.

In the last while, there has been a small rallying cry for her to challenge the mayor (if he runs) in the next election. I'd welcome more Councillors throwing their hat in the ring. Most won't if the mayor runs again because the patent unfairness of them having to resign their Council seats while the mayor retains his.

I can't say if Havixbeck is ready. The reason I didn't vote for her aside from her close ties to the PCs was that she had less of a defined policy platform than her competitors. An equally run campaign for mayor won't likely sway me.

For the moment, I will stand up and cheer a more outspoken counterpoint to what we have seen in City Hall the last little while. Things need to be better and it won't happen if Councillors keep getting blindsided by a lack of information.

Let's hope this promises to be an interesting year in city politics.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Liberal Leadership Race

Liberal Leadership Race
I didn't attend the debate at the Metropolitan Theatre having had to work that day. I was interested in what was to be discussed but the format sounded fluffy.

There are some interesting ideas some candidates are proposing but this wasn't a debate and it should have been. The party does need to thrash out ideas amongst themselves and to distinguish themselves from the other parties.

A very small Idle No More protest occurred. Not surprisingly, it led the news stories. However, if the protest was an attempt to embarrass the Liberals or help increase support for the movement, it failed.

By all accounts, the Idle No More campaign needed the Opposition including the Liberals through interim leader Bob Rae to help end a hunger strike that may have ended in someone dying only a number of weeks before.

As some political panels have noted, all the leaders have called for change in First Nations relations and they have all said talks must happen and action to take place.

One column by the bright and interesting writer Ethan Cabel suggests that protestors revealed the irrelevance of the Liberals. The inference being that it is a polarized world out there and one can't reason with such an angry person.

We don't know who this protestor is. We don't know if he represented the movement at all. It might have helped to find out. Many people are now far too cynical to not ask these questions. The penchant for mischief is too strong to ignore and politics runs through everything including opposing First Nations factions.

I do have to correct one item from that column that states the Metropolitan Theatre sits on Treaty 1 land. The land where the theater sits was ceded to to the crown "forever" if my understanding is correct.

I'll be the first to say that treaty obligations have been poorly fulfilled but the land the theater sits on is not reserve land as per treaty agreement.

Also, I don't know if I agree that the Liberals are turning to the right. On economic policy, they have staked that ground since the 1990s.

I wish the Liberal leadership race was more interesting. I have donated money and support Marc Garneu. I like his character, his work and political experience and like his policies on economics and democratic reform.

I don't think he is irrelevant.

And while the leadership race lacks the substance that I would like to see, it should be noted that the NDP race was also a little lite on grit and ideas. And yet the NDP have been solid in second since Tom Mulcair took over.

Canadian might have their own ideas about relevance.

In a poll this weekend, conducted to see where Justin Trudeau was thus far in the race.
If a federal election were held in Canada today and Justin Trudeau were at the helm of the Liberal Party, they’d win a strong majority in the House of Commons, says a Forum Poll for the National Post
Forty-one per cent of poll respondents said they’d vote Liberal in this scenario, granting the party 164 of the 308 seats in the house. The Tories would get 30% of the vote and 93 seats, and the NDP would get 20% of the vote and 45 seats.
With six per cent of the vote, the Bloc Quebecois would get five seats. Two per cent of the vote would go to the Green Party, which would retain its single seat.
Surprisingly, much of the new support for the Trudeau-led Liberals came from other parties: 35% from the Greens, 25% from the NDP and even 10% from the Conservatives.
To recap: Liberals elect Trudeau leader:

Liberals 41%
Tories 30%
NDP 20%
Bloq 6%
Greens 2%

Likable leaders seems to be what Canadian want, what they really, really want.

And that isn't irrelevant.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Able Wholesale Apartment Conversion

Able Wholesale Erin & Notre Dame

Able Wholesale Looking North from Erin

Able Wholesale on Notre Dame

Able Wholesale Looking West on Notre Dame
Some projects that come across the city's desk truly are innovative and bold.

One of the last projects with excitement to it was the Avenue and Hample apartment conversion. That $12.4 million dollar construction took a few years to get done and needed $3.8 million in city and provincial funding to be completed.

It is probable that had government not helped that these two buildings would have continued to decay along Portage Avenue.  It has certainly inspired the developers to continue to build and they are doing work along Princess Street now.

The problem with the downtown housing development is that it is so expensive and risky that government money is always involved.  That is not to say that government money is not used in the suburbs as well. A new suburb like Waverley West receives a huge amount of infrastructure support in the form of roads, water, sewer, policing, paramedics, fire and the big ticket item: schools.

The developer does the initial layout but the costs quickly mount especially as the density is lost and the suburbs stretch out many kilometers from city center.

We are increasingly hearing exasperation from Bridgwater and South Pointe about the lack of schools for a quickly growing child population. The province should not be surprised as they are the developer of much of the land in the area.  In the end, the slush fund of money the NDP government expected from developing Waverley West is going to be eaten up by building at east six new schools for the area.

The subsidy to help bring people to where existing infrastructure is doesn't seem as bad when seen in retrospect.

But it doesn't always have to be that way.

In the meeting of Executive Policy Committee this week, we see two proposals to approve infill housing. One of them I already described in regards to Charleswood off Laxdal where 23 houses are proposed. It is an excellent use of the land and will help Royal School down the street with future students.

The other proposal is for land off Erin at Notre Dame. The Free Press mentioned a bit about the proposal in December. It has been refined a bit to finally go before council.

In a nutshell, it is to turn the former Able Wholesale building into around 72 rental apartments. Wintec Services is acting as developer and said they expected the conversion to cost around $4.5 million. That seems a little low for an older building but I expect we will hear more in the next days.

I expect the city will approve this development which doesn't appear to ask for money and which will be able to use existing infrastructure and schools. In short, it is a good use for an old building and helps increase density and better efficiencies for the city.

Floor Plans for Able Wholesale
Able Wholesale Conversion

Other things are happening along Notre Dame as well.

Spa Investments also wants to develop a strip mall across the street from Able Wholesale. Presently, it is home to Robin's Donuts. I have not seen anything in the form of a plan for what is said to be 20,000 to 30,000 square feet of space. Perhaps the housing across the street will help dictate what goes in the mall.

Farther down Notre Dame, the conversion plans for the Christie Biscuits/MWG Apparel building into the Specialized Services for Children and Youth Centre proceed. The Christie building is a fine building and this sounds like an excellent use.

It is easy to get discouraged sometimes in regards to the city. Despite the fact so much is available in terms of information on certain things the city does, it is poorly communicated.

Often some developers toil in obscurity, only revealed in zoning changes or once their projects are complete. No extra money is asked for and yet the city benefits greatly from the work.

Wintec's other apartment work was snapped up by Health Science Centre workers at Beverley and Notre Dame.

Beverley at Notre Dame

30 Apartment Beverley Street Block
So hats off to business people who have seen a need and have invested in their work and who make the city a better place.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Freeloading at City Hall

It was bound to happen sooner or later.

The empty civic parkade begged the question: Where did those displaced find parking spaces?

I had heard of some councillors getting rental space in the very tiny Centennial Centre indoor parking. Other councillors found space at the Bedford Parkade two blocks away on King Street. Many staff had to take a commuter bus from the Centennial Library even further away.

The Centennial Centre was renovated as recently as 2010. I can find no listing of how many spaces are there but I can't imagine it is more than a hundred. And most of the those spaces are allocated already to provincial employees of either the Museum or Concert Hall.

The mayor and a few councillors managed to get space there. The rest managed to find spots in the recently built five floor parkade at King Street (There is also a heated underground part of the lot).

I'll bet city councillors would have never bet they would need the Bedford Parkade this badly when they gave it $1.5 million three years ago. The parkade also got $500,000 for CentreVenture. This created 160 parking spaces in a building the city had allowed to fall apart in years previous.

The Civic Parkade was a 450 stall parkade. The Centennial Centre's possible 100 and Bedford's 160 stalls barely scratch the surface of what was lost.

The Grain Exchange Parkade has around 270 spaces but that has a lot of stalls spoken for by the Portage and Main crowd and it isn't exactly that close to City Hall. Nor would it be appropriate for city police cars.

The police and some city fleet vehicles have had to take over the space on James Avenue for the 134 cars they have lost space for. There is also an underground component to the Civic Parkade that is used for an undisclosed amount of police cars. I am still not sure what the structural integrity of that underground portion is.

How did we get here?

It was years of a tax freeze and taking money from the parking authority to balance budgets without fixing city owned infrastructure. The fire sale auction of the Winnipeg Square Parkade is directly related to the city's need for money and not wanting to invest in upgrading the lot.

And are we talking about what will happen next? No.

The budget is passed and I assume that what we are waiting for is the police to move to their new building on Graham Avenue. At that point, maybe some hard questions will come in regards to what to do with Public Safety Building and the Civic Parkade.

It has been pointed out the land must remain public and the city has no right to sell it off. Once the police go, the buildings are likely to be cost a lot to maintain as we have seen from the Kapyong Barracks debacle.

Ultimately, the decision to do something will have to come down to council.  If they were even more inconvenienced, that decision might be sooner. But how inconvenienced are they? A heated spot at Centennial and underground walkway to council is not bad. A little more inconvenient at Bedford Parkade but perhaps a little less bitter in the underground heated part.

A bus trip from Centennial Library daily would probably have resulted in an emergency meeting and a budget of tens of millions for a new parkade.

In some cases, free loaders have the best space in town.

The Free Press picture of Phil Sheegl is the inevitable conclusion of the question of where are city officials parking now.

It is hard to believe that no one considered it. Or more likely they didn't care or figured it would not be important enough for people to care. How anyone thought parking permanently at a loading dock made good business sense, political sense or safety sense is beyond me.

I am sure the reaction from the top official is suck a lemon.

There are 450 parking spaces no longer in place for City Hall campus. If Joe or Jane Citizen need to do business with civic officials, they are fresh out of luck for spots close by. It isn't good enough telling people to use public transit. One day we might have that type of public transportation system but that day isn't here yet.

It is highly likely that if the Public Safety Building and Civic Parkade come down that we will see at least a $50 million structure.

The Tecumseh Parkade completed in 2009 cost $40 million at Health Science Centre.

Tecumseh Parkade at HSC
You can bet that we won't hear this bitter pill till after the next city election. However, a decision will have to made when people here it costs hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions to keep the decaying ruins of these buildings up.

Bud Light Swear Jar

Something for Superbowl Sunday.