A Winnipeg city committee has voted in favour of adding three old buildings on south Main Street to the city's heritage building list, including the home of iconic music club Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club.
The city's property and planning committee voted on Tuesday to recommend placing the Fortune Block on 232 Main St., the MacDonald Building on 226 Main St., and the Winnipeg Hotel on 214 Main St. on the city's list of historical resources.
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The Fortune Block, a three-storey building built in 1882, is home to Times Change(d). It along with the two other buildings are at risk of being demolished to make way for a new 150-room extended-stay hotel.
George Landes, the current owner of the Fortune Block, has a deal with the hotel developers and wants to sell his building. He said the committee's decision is disappointing.
"Well, it leaves us with the determination of what is Plan B, which we don't have," Landes said.
Toronto-based architect Harry Christakis said if the three buildings do end up receiving city protection, the proposed hotel development is effectively dead.
The developers can appeal the property and planning committee's recommendation, which will next be reviewed by the executive policy committee. If it approves it, it will go to council.
Meanwhile, John Pollard, the co-CEO of Pollard Banknote, has come forward with an offer to save the Fortune Building and keep Times Change(d) as a tenant.
Buildings too expensive to save, hotel proponents argue
Earlier on Tuesday, proponents of the hotel development had appeared before the committee to pitch their $35-million project, which they said would create 40 to 50 jobs.
Jay Lev of Stride Developments and George Christakis of #16 Hospitality argued that it's too expensive to save the old buildings.
Lev said the Fortune and MacDonald buildings are "unsafe and can't be saved," listing a number of deficiencies and problems ranging from rot and mould to heaving floors and bad foundations.
Christakis said the buildings have been sadly neglected and are likely beyond the tipping point for preserving.
Lev said Manshield Construction reviewed the costs to repair the buildings, and came up with a figure exceeding $17 million.
The rental rates needed to support the costs of renovating the Main Street buildings would be prohibitively high and beyond market interest, he argued.
When Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt asked if the building facades could be preserved, Lev said doing so would require a "massive public subsidy."
Old hotel 'a thing of the past,' says ex-owner
The developers were supported by current and former owners of the buildings in question, including Mervin Bauming, former owner of the Winnipeg Hotel.
"This kind of hotel [is] a thing of the past," he told the committee.
Bauming said the south Main buildings are not safe and would not meet current fire codes even when renovated.
Landes told councillors his building is falling down due to neglect. Renovations were too costly even in the 1960s, he said, and some floors were simply shut down.
Landes said only someone not interested in making a profit could take over the Fortune Block and preserve it.
Offered above assessed value
Pollard told the committee he is willing to purchase and restore the Fortune and MacDonald buildings, and has even offered above the properties' assessed value.
He added that he had not considered including the Winnipeg Hotel in his offer, but he might.
Pollard noted the buildings' "really prominent location" on south Main Street as well as their age.
"A lot of the other heritage buildings you look at were built in the early 1900s. This is 1883. These are our very oldest, essentially, downtown buildings," he said.
Pollard said he does not expect a big return on the purchase, but he believes the buildings can be saved. Engineering reviews done on the buildings concluded that they are salvageable, he said.
Times Change(d) owner John Scoles told the committee his venue employs a rotation of more than 200 musicians and has been voted the number one Winnipeg destination on the travel website TripAdvisor.
Scoles said the Fortune Building "needs serious love to be restored" and urged the committee to recommend a heritage designation.
Development proponents and supporters offered an olive branch to Scoles during the meeting, saying they hope for a solution to preserve Winnipeg culture.
"I'm sure the owner of Times Change(d) would pleased to know there are no condos planned for the property," Landes said, referring to a sign posted outside the club reading, "Culture not Condos."
Cindy Tugwell of Heritage Winnipeg said while she doesn't like seeing heritage restoration pitted against development, she added that preserving buildings promote downtown revitalization.
"This is the last resort," Tugwell said, adding that the buildings in question are some of the oldest buildings in the area.