James Avenue Pumping Station

The James Avenue Pumping Station contains massive machinery built in the U.K. at the dawn of the 20th Century. The station was used to fight fires in Winnipeg from 1906 to 1986. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

A plan to redevelop the 110-year-old James Avenue Pumping Station has cleared its first hurdle at city hall.

Council's property committee voted unanimously Tuesday to allow a portion of James Avenue to be narrowed to allow a the former pumping station, which has sat unoccupied since 1986, to be transformed into a new commercial, residential and retail complex.

Downtown development agency CentreVenture is working with developers Bryce Alston and Rick Hofer to preserve the 1906 pumping station as part of a $17-million mixed-use development that would see one new building rise to the east and another to the west. Offices would be installed within the rafters in the original barn-like structure, allowing a view of the vintage machinery below.

CentreVenture president and CEO Angela Mathieson said the four-storey and six-storey additions will create enough new commercial, retail and residential space to make the project financially feasible. 

"There will be three buildings at the site — one heritage and two new buildings," she said.

The lane closure is designed to provide room for the additions and make James Avenue more pedestrian-friendly.

​The James Avenue Pumping Station was built in 1906 to draw water from the Red River and use it to fight fires in central Winnipeg. The water source was switched to the Winnipeg Aqueduct in 1919. The station remained in use until 1986 but sat vacant after it was decommissioned.

Following the formation of CentreVenture in 1999, developers have come forward with no fewer than 14 different plans to redevelop the building. The structure has proven too difficult to renovate because of the need to preserve both the exterior facade and the machinery within.

River Heights-Fort Garry Coun. John Orlikow, who chairs the property committee, said he's happy the pumping station is being converted into something more dynamic than a collection of old gears.

"How many people want to see a pumphouse museum?" he asked.

Cindy Tugwell of Heritage Winnipeg appeared before the committee in support of the latest redevelopment proposal, calling it an imperfect solution for preserving heritage but a good compromise.

The owner of Pacific Avenue furniture store Blue Moon and several area residents expressed concern about the loss of parking spots that may result from the street closure.

Mathieson said the redevelopment will have 50 underground parking spots. The narrowing of James Avenue is needed to build the underground lot, she said.

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt noted the conflict over parking is a sign of CentreVenture's previous success in bringing residents to the East Exchange and Waterfront Drive districts. He asked city staff to be more diligent in communicating with Exchange District and Waterfront Drive residents.

A new Sport Manitoba parkade on Pacific Avenue will alleviate some parking pressure in the neighbourhood next year, Orlikow added.

The street narrowing still requires approval from executive policy committee on Wednesday and council as a whole next week.

Read the Pumping Station presentation here:

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