The historic St. Charles Hotel is going back into the hands of the City of Winnipeg.

A committee voted unanimously Monday to take over the title to the 100-year-old building in the Exchange District, which has been vacant since 2008.

After years of giving owner Ken Zaifman multiple chances to redevelop it, the city decided to take it over — almost.

Zaifman has been granted one last chance to get the work done. If he can do that in 120 days, he can have it back.

Zaifman must comply with the vacant building bylaw by installing a sprinkler system and doing some other work to bring the structure at the corner of Albert Street and Notre Dame Avenue up to code.

In the past, he has said it would be a waste of money to put in the system while he was still working on his development plan.

On Monday, Zaifman said the sprinklers were in, even though there is very little combustible material in the building because there is nothing left but the studs.

He hasn't yet been able to test the sprinklers, though, he said.

"Sometimes it takes longer than we want to get people to do the work and get them to do it in a timely way, so we're doing the best we can, but it's in place," he said.

Zaifman has long said he wants to turn the four-storey building into a boutique hotel.

No demolition

There was some concern among councillors last week that a move to take over the building could actually hasten its demise.

That's because the report going to the downtown development and heritage committee stated that if no suitable offering for the building could be found within 90 days of the city takeover, it must be demolished.

That clause was removed Monday by city administrators, who called it a mistake.

Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell is happy the demolition won't happen, but she is frustrated and angry that Zaifman has been given yet another chance.

"I think it's ridiculous. I was doing the math with the amount of time our organization and the bureaucrats with the city have spent on this — it's probably three times the cost of putting in that sprinkler system — that we've spent over the last five years [and] that's taxpayers' money," she said.

If Zaifman manages to meet the 120-day deadline to get his work completed, the building could continue to sit empty for years, Tugwell said.

"I'm outraged that this process takes so long because most people complain that these heritage buildings are so expensive to redevelop," she said.

"They're expensive because they sit vacant and derelict by these types of owners and the costs increase every year."