|The new downtown tower|
A Winnipeg Free Press story mentioned how many building projects are going up...only two actually under construction.
On average since 1970, Winnipeg usually sees a few taller buildings go up every ten years. There is one big gap of nearly 15 years over the entire 1990s and into the mid 2000s where nothing was built if any real height over the entire city. As most will remember, Winnipeg and much of the country was dragging through a recession, very low dollar and major cutbacks at every level of government. The one major initiative was the construction of Shaw Park for baseball as part of a plan for Winnipeg hosting the Pan American Games and permanent home for the Winnipeg Goldeyes.
Winnipeg in the 1990s saw property values drop horribly and the struggle every day was palpable. The departure of the Winnipeg Jets in 1996 seemed to leave the message: Will the the last one to leave turn out the lights? It was an awful time that saw the city tear itself apart with murder, arson and car theft. People fled the province.
The closure of Eaton's downtown store in 1999 and the huge hole it created downtown kind of shook up the business and government community. The empty Eaton's building was the biggest symbol of how Portage Avenue was on life support.
Despite efforts to preserve the Eaton's building, no one from the private sector came forward with a viable plan year after year until the arena proposal led by the Chipman family came to the fore.
It would be wrong to say that this deal turned this around for the downtown of Winnipeg. It did however lead to a partnership between the Chipman family and David Thomson, who owned the Eaton's property, to create the circumstances for the return of the Winnipeg Jets.
Serendipity. The combination of the two families led to the building of the MTS Centre which led to the Jets which has resulted in the construction of the biggest project on North Portage since the 1980s. The Centrepoint development is well underway and will have offices, a hotel, a parkade, condos and restaurants. The tallest building since the Investor's Group office is climbing into the air.
The very slow recovery of the economy that includes Winnipeg and the excitement of the Jets return has inspired some investors to invest in property in the downtown area. We have seen some private developers buy hotels, apartments and offices for some pretty big money.
There are a few proposals for residential towers downtown, only two have shovels in the ground, one other look ready to go. A few have seemed to falter on the lack of parking and their unwillingness to invest in a parkade. The Waterfront Drive phase one of condos depended largely on the developers putting their own parkades in. The price point as a result is higher.
Notwithstanding the issue of parking and how government can help, many developers are proceeding with their own plans. No one builds on speculation anymore so pre-sales are the rule of the day. Even when everything is almost pre-sold, it is still a slow process as one Assiniboine Avenue developer has shown.
The biggest hype probably surrounds the Fortress Real Developments and MADY Developments with their tallest building in the city proposal for 245 Graham Avenue across from the old post office/new police headquarters. The tower continues to get pushed up in proposed height. The latest word is that it will be 46 and possibly as high as 55 storeys in height.
The proposal also includes a grocery store, some offices, parking.
The creed of the new development is Live, Work, Play.
Can it work? Well, it has been done before. Winnipeg developer Lakeview has done it twice with Lakeview Square and Delta hotel complex from the 1970s and 1980s and the Courts of St. James in the 1970s. Each project required tens of millions of dollars and had retail, offices and residential components that ensured their success.
The $200 million to complete Winnipeg's tallest building could be there to spend. The impression from the developers is that they do set out to do the work they promise. They have an established record.
However, we have had many promises from even well know Winnipeg firms that were withdrawn because market conditions were not right.
It remains to be seen if this project can go forward. But in the end, Winnipeg has waited a very long time for a major building like this and the timing for it might be perfect.