A City of Winnipeg committee has approved a developer's plan to build a 24-storey apartment complex over the decommissioned James Avenue pumping station.

The city's downtown development committee OK'd the project on Monday, after hearing from several people opposed to it.

Kaley Pacak, who lives nearby, was one of those who tried to convince the committee to turn the plan down. She supports development in the Waterfront area of the East Exchange District, just not something so tall.

Pumping station tower

Some people living in the Waterfront area of the Exchange District worry a proposed tower for the site of the pumping station will block their views. (Courtesy Sotirios Kotoulas)

"I'm not opposed to a new building, in fact I support any new venture in the area. But it's just the height. My building is right beside the new project and it would just kind of tower over our condo building," she said.

The developer was previously granted a variance to height restrictions in the area to allow the 24-storey complex — which is to include a parkade and a grocery store — at James Avenue and Waterfront Drive.

But some residents appealed the decision and were given the chance to air those concerns at city hall on Monday.

Winnipeg artist Wanda Koop, who lives in the area, said 24 storeys is too high and could hurt the culture of the area.

Pumping station tower

Redevelopment plans for the James Avenue Pumping Station include a 24-storey tower. (Courtesy Sotirios Kotoulas)

Another opponent likened the plan to dropping a skyscraper in the Colosseum in Rome.

But Sotirios Kotoulas, the architect on the project, said zoning for the area already allows eight-storey buildings.

"There are people who live next door that say their view will be blocked, therefore they don't want this tower. Well, I can go tomorrow and build an eight-storey building without a height variance and it will block everyone's view because the adjacent building is only four-storeys high," he said.

He said the decision was made to build 24 storeys after looking at dozens of previous attempts to save and restore the pumping station and the heritage equipment in it. The cost of preserving what was left in the building and developing the property was very high.

"All of the previous proposals failed, buckled, broke down because they were not cognizant of the economic dimension … they didn't calculate the economics into the proposal," Kotoulas said.

Machine garden 

The turn-of-the-century pumping station, built in 1906, fed one of only two high-pressure firefighting systems in North America when it was in operation. It has been shut down since the mid-1980s.

It was declared a Heritage building in 1982.

It was sold by downtown development agency CentreVenture in 2001 but they bought it back for several times the amount in 2004. There have been numerous attempts to restore the building but none have gone past the planning stage.

Pumping station

The redevelopment plans call for the pumping station to be transformed into a machine garden, a park not with trees but pipes and valves and gears. (Courtesy Sotirios Kotoulas)

​Kotoulas, who has degrees in architecture from McGill and the prestigious Cooper Union School of Architecture in New York, has a plan that sees the pumping station preserved as a type of park.

"All the machines would remain in place and the space would be transformed into a 'machine garden.' A different park of course, not one with lawns and trees [but] one with concrete, pipes, valves and sluices," he said.

The 'park' would include a restaurant with the capacity for catering events in the space. The developers are also committed to building a grocery store in the project and a parkade — amenities virtually every resident in the area have called for repeatedly.

Kotoulas said the area could be used for neighbourhood meetings or leased out for events. He sees the pumping station becoming "a nucleus for the neighbourhood that actually has no square — the east Exchange has no public space."

Density is one of the keys to the future of Winnipeg's downtown and the 200-plus suites that the tower would bring to the Exchange would help toward that end, Kotoulas said.