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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Lombard and Downtown Winnipeg - Richardson Innovation Center

The Exchange side of Lombard is like a movie set except in Winnipeg's case, the facade is not a few feet deep. Each building on the north side has depth, character and history. And now in the old Great-West Life headquarters, they have a Salisbury House.

It is tough with the Richardson building. It is an iconic building started in 1967 and completed in 1969. The site where it stands now was to host the original Richardson family building but the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed nixed that. For 40 years Winnipeg's famous corner was a surface parking lot and and gas station covered with billboards.

The building stands 34 storeys of which ten floors house various Richardson family entities. The Fairmont Hotel (formerly Winnipeg Inn/Westin/Lombard) and 161 Portage which used to be the Bank of Canada building but is now called Tetratech Building as they occupy two of the eight floors are all Richardson owned as well as the parkade and the Richardson Concourse underneath.

By 1970, the corner was transformed and indicated just how powerful the family was in Manitoba and in Canada. This will now continue with the Richardson Innovation Center being presently built on a surface lot at Lombard and Westbrook near the Nutty Club building.
Surface lots are often the most desolate of places. Owners resist doing anything on them accept monthly rents. Any attempt to landscape them or place a building on them is often scorned. The RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre was nearly thwarted from expansion by the province who did not want to lose their surface lot. They were shamed into it. However, the net result is that the city has seen every trade show and convention expand accordingly. Hotels have a fairly good occupancy rate in the city and the development along with the BellMTS has triggered other long time parking lots to be used for hotels and offices.
I think many Winnipeggers are coming to realize that it is on us to find ways to build employment and livability. Family companies have been doing that for generations in Winnipeg whether it is retailer, financial services, restaurant or manufacturer. The family firm of them all is the Richardsons and each year that goes by, they continue to invest.

The Richardson Innovation Center will be 62,000 square feet and be a research center for the ag division of the company. It will bring top researchers under one roof and look to develop food science technologies to bring to market.
Upon completion, a walk down down Lombard will be a walk down history for Winnipeg in terms of architecture and business. Only a few parking lots on the surface will remain and another building block will be in place for what everyone hopes the city will be. And that is a vital community, with meaningful paid work and a future for us all.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Forks

Winnipeggers have been very protective of The Forks and how it is has grown. The area surrounding as well as had its controversies. The Goldeyes stadium, the Provencher pedestrian bridge and the Human Rights Museum had people question their need, their cost, their placement and the people who were behind them.

The Forks has no real one founder. Lloyd Axworthy helped hasten the land to be available but the plans were all our ideas. There was some debate and doubt on the site but there seemed more goodwill to see things through. In other words naysayers were in a minority and there seemed common cause from all three levels of government and well as small and medium business. Think everyone can agree a large corporate presence has been largely absent save for sponsorship of events and the stage.

Hardly anyone thinks of The Forks as downtown but it is. While not completely devoid of issues, most think of The Forks as a place to visit and enjoy themselves. For the biggest events like Festival du Voyageur and Pride, the area is packed with people.

There are two sections left adjacent to The Forks for development this year and once again in 2019, we are being very protective of the area as a whole. We've more or less done it right and previously chased away a small hotel group from opening there that was walked onto Council floor.

I'm reasonably confident that we are all on the ball looking out for the best interests of the site and that the last section of The Forks will be a success.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Gymboree to Close Winnipeg Stores

Gymboree across North America are set to close after going into bankruptcy.  Once again an American company saddled with debt from a ill conceived take-over struggles and fails and takes the Canadian wing down too. Many times the problem striking at the U.S. part of the company don't affect that Canadian division but it doesn't matter. Linens and Things was profitable in Canada but got shut down anyways.  Other times the U.S. parent sacks the branch like Sears and Blockbuster did to extract cash from them.

Toys R Us was one of the few times the Canadian branch was able to split off from its closing parent. Whatever home for the 49 Canadian stores vanished with the bankruptcy and decision to shut down all stores continent-wide. In Winnipeg that means Gymboree at CF Polo Park and St. Vital Centre are destined for closing out sales.

CF Polo Park as well as St. Vital Centre have still not filled their Sears spaces. It is possible they are both holding out for a Nordstrom or Simons location. However, that might be a long wait as many retailers watch the markets carefully.

As far as Gymboree goes, the spaces are of a size that should see new tenants. And their children's product lines are covered well by A Children's Space or Gap stores. There is a Gymboree Play and TMusic store along Kenaston but it has been a separate company since 2016 and is unaffected.

In the aftermath of Christmas, expect a few more closures of stores. It would appear many malls might have to look at other attractions for their locations aside from retailers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Portage Avenue 1960s

In the 1960s it was so hard to get a parking space on Portage Avenue.

Well, not really. This picture was taken across the street from what was the Mall Hotel and Centre which was complete in 1964. A British American Gas sign logo marks where one of their stations was once and a Perth's in the retail block ahead of it. Kitty corner is the University of Winnipeg. The 7 floor Mall office building housed the corporate headquarters of Winnipeg Supply. It was also where the 16 bay bus terminal was.

Sadly by the 1970s the Mall Hotel was one of the most dangerous hotels in the city and one of the seedier ones.

The Gaiety Theatre from Famous Players was later to become the Colony Theatre in the late 1970s. In 1964 it had the longest marquee of any movie house in the province as well as 700 seats in stadium style. A Red Rose Tea sign sat atop the theatre in the 1960s. For a time after 1973 and Gaiety was an adult movie house showing soft porn. It lasted maybe four years before becoming the Colony and showing regular fare again. In mid 1980s it was demolished in favour of Investor Group headquarters which moved from Broadway.

Winnipeg had a fairly lax billboard law in the 1960s and signs were everywhere. Looking way down to Portage and Main a Coca Cola clock sign can be seen. It would be a few years before the Richardson Building and Winnipeg Inn (Fairmont) would be built. The same corner had a Royal Dutch Shell clock sign on the buldings that eventually became the Trizec development (marked with TD logo today).

Overhead of the street are trolley bus wires. One final observation. Look at the awesome VW van parked on the north side of the street.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Seasons of Tuxedo Liquor Mart Opening Soon

Seasons of Tuxedo continues to fill in month after month. While the focus has been on the Outlet Collection of Winnipeg mall, the surrounding parking lot had construction fall/winter.

One of those businesses is a Liquor Mart going up right at the corner of Kenaston at Sterling Lyon. Work continues inside but expect signage up soon and an opening date probably before the snow melts.

The residential population has risen sharply in the last few years and more is being built now. This has required services be nearby and subsequently, medical offices, veterinarian offices and a specialty grocer have all hung up a shingle. The first beer vendour, The Tux, has opened in Winnipeg in decades and has begun to grow their customer base.

However, beer is not the only drink that some of the new residents want and despite another liquor store just down my McGillivary, Liquor Mart believes they have a customer base. They probably do and one that will get bigger and more units of housing goes up at Sterling Lyon and soon on Kapyong.

The way to reduce the cars on Kenaston is to ensure services where many people live. A Liquor Mart in site should go a long way to doing that. Now, when do we hear about the first cannabis store for Seasons of Tuxedo?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Portage and Main 1965

In 1965 Portage and Main had two billboard clock. The first was a Coca Coca clock where the Richardson Building is now and could be seen the entire length of Portage Avenue. The second clock was Royal Dutch Shell and was atop the present TD building and could be seen heading toward the intersection from North Main.

For many decades the area of the Richardson building was a gas station, parking lot and Hertz car rental place. It was marked by multiple billboards and looked anything vibrant business districts on the other corners. It would be another five years before the Richardson Building and Winnipeg Inn (Fairmont) would be constructed.

What can be seen in this picture is the 1965/66 construction of the 17 floor prairie headquarters of Royal Bank. It is on the left side in the middle of the block. This was the first of many modern towers to follow that would begin to change Portage and Main to what we see now.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

1982 Films: Blade Runner and The Thing

I had not seen Blade Runner 2049 when it first came out. Thanksgiving weekend in Canada is not as busy as the U.S. but it is busy enough. Between work and dinner, a journey out to the movie just didn't seem to be in the offing. Plus the length of the film left me somewhat intimidated. It is only recently that I've seen it.

The box office for opening weekend for the new Blade Runner was...bad. Made for an estimated $150 million and starring original actor Harrison Ford with Canadians Ryan Gosling co-starring and Denis Villeneuve directing, it was expected to be a blockbuster. It was number 1 on opening weekend but with sluggish numbers. The adult nature made the movie not so kid friendly plus women had little to appeal to them in terms of characters. Ridley Scott admitted the movie at nearly nearly three hours might have been too long. Reviews were excellent but many said it was not an action movie.

I liked the original and still like to learn new things about it or immerse myself in the style of it, the music, the intricacies of the story and Harrison Ford as well as Rutger Hauer. The original Blade Runner movie was one of several sci-fi movies that year that did not do well at the box office in the year it came out.

The reason that 1982 was a bad year for a lot of sci-fi was because of E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. The movie was released on June 11 that summer and for weeks after crushed the competition. Anything sci-fi that came out later than summer was crushed by the juggernaut that Spielberg created.

Luckily, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan came out June 4 on the weekend before or it might have suffered the same fate as other competing movies. The summer of 1982 really was all about E.T. Movies like Blade Runner and The Thing and others finished far in the wake of that fan favourite.

Were it not for a second life in burgeoning video rental business, it is hard to say what would have happened to movies that had slipped below the radar. Premium movie channels were still a year away in 1983. TV channels such as CKND offered tons of movies from 1974 on but they tended to be older fare and more recent movies didn't show up for some time. Late night TV elsewhere sometimes had movies but it was more likely to be filled by oodles of syndicated TV series.

I saw movies every weekend in 1982. I was still in high school and had a few part-time jobs including delivering the Free Press which was an evening paper at that time. I always had money for movies and partook at the theatre far more than I do now. The hype leading up to a movie had far less of a lead time as it does today. Often a movie trailer would only appear a few weeks before a release in theatres and maybe a week before on television commercials. Movies would come out on Fridays and reviews in the Saturday newspapers. I'd see movies on the Friday and mostly went in blind save for I had previewed the story in an entertainment magazine or in the case of sci-fi in the magazine Starlog.

Starlog started around the time my passion for sci-fi began in the mid 1970s. I'll wrote more on it in another post. Suffice to say though I was very aware of directors John Carpenter and and Ridley Scott from the movies I'd seen of theirs. In truth, I was more aware of Carpenter because of Halloween in 1978, The Fog in 1980 and especially Escape from New York in 1981. I first read about The Thing coming in Starlog and there were trailers which I saw which made me want to see it before Blade Runner.

I loved Ridley Scott's The Thing but heard next to nothing about it aside from the fact that Harrison Ford was going to be it. It was a toss up what movie to see that weekend first but with a bigger body of work and more familiarity with Carpenter, I went to see The Thing with a high school buddy.

Oh my gosh, what a terrifying movie! I was very familiar with Kurt Russell from his Disney to Elvis days and after Escape from New York, it likely tipped the balance in favour of The Thing. And what a movie! Loved the setting, the cast, the music, the writing and suspense and yes, the horror. The special effects were truly scary and this was when things had to be done without a computer. In many ways it felt more real and terrifying.

I saw Blade Runner a week later and it was like nothing like I'd ever seen. It wasn't the cold antiseptic future many earth bound sci-fis portrayed. This was a messy, dark, wet, corrupt and frightening. It was a full realized world and Harrison Ford is tired and dogged detective and narrator. And the ending. It left even director and actor years later debating what in fact it meant. Amazing film.

Even with what was two of the more influential sci-fi movies of all time on the same weekend in the same summer, they both flopped to the E.T. juggernaut. By late 1982/early 1983, the amount of Canadians homes to have a VCR exploded and the mom and pop video stores were everywhere. This is where movies like The Thing and Blade Runner found a new life, success and critical claim.

I have seen both films numerous times over the years but I can say this: I have only seen E.T. twice. I saw it in theatres that same summer and later as a video rental and never again. It was a very good film but there really was not much more I could get out of it.

It is easy to see why a movie that appeals to families would dominate an entire summer. It is very fortunate that the video market allowed for overlooked films to get a second chance.

Blade Runner 2049 was a very good film but unlike Ridley Scott's original, it didn't break any new ground in the look and feel that turned out to be so influential. And it was long which meant getting to the part where our protagonist meets Harrison Ford takes a while. I liked the movie but it is easy to see why one again such a film would do poorly at the box office.

As a last note, a film was done as a prequel to The Thing. It was also very good but travelled down the same worn path of the original like an overlay. It was also a critical and box office failure.

It should be noted that both Carpenter and Scott were not trusted by the studios. After The Thing Carpenter lost a studio gig for Firestarter as well as his confidence. Scott took nearly three years to get Legend produced and like Blade Runner had it edited to a version that was far from his vision. This just goes to show both directors took a while to be recognized for work that are now regarded as classics.

Media is fractious nowadays. Even big tentpole movies can be overlooked. It is no wonder that even small works get plowed under. Netflix has helped with re-discovering old TV series and movies. In 2019 the field competing with Netflix grows as Disney and Warner brothers join the competition. However, let's hope that some movies get a second life via a re-thinking or word of mouth or by sheer chance like The Thing and Blade Runner did.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Buy Buy Baby Coming to Polo Park Area

The massive amount of reconstruction along St. James is the aftermath of Canada Inn Stadium being demolished and the land redeveloped. The promise was that money would be used to re-build the woeful roads all around Manitoba's biggest mall Polo Park. One of those roads fixed and enhanced was St. Matthews. The better roads has contributed to a number of businesses upgrading the Polo Park neigbourhood buildings and in some cases, adding new retailers and restaurants.

The retail strip that contains Best Buy, Save on Foods and Hockey Life is getting an addition on its north side up to St. Matthews. The new retailer coming is a sister store of Bed, Bath and Beyond called Buy Buy Baby. As one can guess from the name it is a retailer specializing in all things baby related.

Bed, Bath and Beyond already has one store in Winnipeg by Polo Park so Buy Buy Baby will be new to the local market. In recent years, some retailers have focused on babies as a niche market so this might not be the last retailer to be seen entering the market here.

The intersection of St. James and St. Matthews looks to be busy as in addition to Buy Buy Baby, the former Target has now been converted into Marshalls, Winners and 24-7 In Touch call center. Several other retailers and restaurants have announcements coming up soon as well.

Still no word on what is coming to Sears Polo Park but it unlikely another Christmas will pass with it empty.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Portage and Main 1960s

For many decades Portage and Main was not exactly iconic in look. There was certainly the majestic Bank of Montreal branch pointed at the street on the southeast corner. CN offices, the McIntyre Block and the Childs Building were on the northwest corner. On the southwest corner was the Canada Life and Rowand block that housed several businesses including CP ticket offices.

The corner with nothing on it was where the future Richardson Building now stands. At one time a gas station occupied the corner but in the 1960s, it was a surface parking lot. Looking down Portage Avenue, the Coca Cola clock sign was clearly visible a long way off.

By 1970, the entire corner was transformed with the new headquarters for Richardsons as well as their family owned luxury hotel Winnipeg Inn plus a parkade.