Thursday, May 23, 2013

The New Tall Tower

Harmony Village in Barrie, Ontario
The announcement of Winnipeg's tallest building comes roughly a year after I mused about when and where the next one would come. It was suggested by a few that a pure office tower was unlikely and that the best bet would probably be a condominium complex.

There are a few apartments and condos going up in the 20 floor category throughout the city, including Heritage Landing on the Assinibone and D Condo also on the Assiniboine River.

There is a long lag between announcing and building these things as pre-sales dictate how fast. And sometimes...projects never take off. It was a few decades before One Wellington Crescent was built. The site sat with billboards announcing something was going up year after year.

In the case of Heritage Landing, actual construction by Crystal Construction is taking place now. And with D Condo, they have torn down the Dubrovnik restaurant.

As far as announcements go, the splash was quite big. Rental tents were set up for guests to see the CEOs of two large eastern based developers Fortress Read Developments and Mady Development Corporation come and say they are proceeding with a sales office and hope to build as high as 42 storeys.

The tallest buildings in the city are all at Portage and Main and average 32 to 33 storeys.

There were no models or renderings of what things might look like. The closest guess is from what Fortress has done in Toronto and Barrie, Ontario with their Harmony Village concept.

Harmony Village on Lake Simcoe
Even then though, it may not adequately portray what is coming in their Winnipeg project. You can't plan a village per se on land opposite the new Winnipeg Police headquarters. There simply is not enough room on the old Winnipeg Tribune site for multiple buildings and plaza.

Although there is talk of around $150 to $200 million or so for this building or buildings, no financing seems to be in place aside from around $1 million for a sales office. There is nothing wrong with that. A lot of places start with a sales office and nothing more. Some don't even have that. It may be a billboard and a website.

The site on Graham Avenue has stood empty when thieves in the night shuttered the Winnipeg Tribune in 1980. The inevitable demolition happened and the land has been surface parking ever since. The land is now purchased and a development plan now proposed.

Some asked why any of the news conference yesterday was news. It is a legitimate question. However, the reaction from some has been cynical and sarcastic or disbelieving. That's okay. We are familiar with that here in Winnipeg. And we have had the football pulled away at the last minute to be completely certain if something is real.

Without singling anyone out as it was more than a few people who may have mentioned or made comment on the development, here is what we heard over the last days more or less:

We once had the tallest building in Canada, then for the west, now we hope to be the biggest between Calgary and Toronto?
Worst news since the announcement of the expanded Winnipeg Convention Centre.

Carpetbaggers coming to the city with no money.

Won't fly in Winnipeg. No one wants to live where they they will be stabbed in the streets and die a cold miserable death.

Who wants to live downtown when we don't have a commuting problem like big cities?

Another terrible planning choice that turns it's back on the downtown around it.

I hate Winnipeg. It is the worst city, in the worst province in the worst country, on the worst continent on the worst planet in the worst solar system in the worst galaxy in the worst universe. I HATE YOU ALL. DIE, DIE, DIE.
 Or words to that effect.

There is not much we can do for those sour on things. Some are perfectly sound criticisms.

I look at it from this perspective: What exists on the Graham Street spot is a parking lot. It has not had a meaningful existence aside from that for 33 years. Interest is being shown by two large out of town developers who have bought said land and have stated they want to bring a 25,000 grocery store to the area as well as parkade for 350 to 400 cars, 70,000 of retail space, up to 100,000 of office and maybe 300 to 400 condos.

The two developers have done such work before. It is safe to say their goal is to get this project done within a three or four year timeframe.

In terms of city planning, I think it is probably important to make sure the future tower is connectable to the skywalk system and to the neighbourhood. The design features in terms of safety and energy efficiency should be pushed to high standards.

I am far less cynical about the development than some. While the development itself is planned, what happens to the surrounding area might be more organic.

What could the arrival of 1000 people living in the area mean? Well, it is attractive to other people who will see a grocery nearby, a Tim's, a sidewalk cafe, a used book store and so on. We might see more in fill developments happen in the area as it become more desirable.

The truth is that what a neighbourhood starts as is not how it will be forever.

I guess we'll soon see how this development unfolds but given the demographics of people downsizing large homes and other people looking for starter properties, it could work in Winnipeg. And the attraction of a mixed used property could be even more attractive.

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