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The building housing Winnipeg's Shanghai Restaurant is one step closer to the wrecking ball. ((Google Street View))

Heritage advocates in Winnipeg say the approved demolition of one of the oldest buildings in the downtown area is an example of "demolition by neglect."

City Hall's property and development committee has voted to allow the Shanghai restaurant building on King Street to be torn down because it's too expensive to repair.

'This can never be replaced.' —Cindy Tugwell

However, the demolition will not proceed until plans for a new site development are approved.

The building, at the corner of King Street and Alexander Avenue on the edge of downtown, is presently home to the Shanghai restaurant and once had a brief tenure as City Hall in the 1880s.

The restaurant's owners intend to cease operating their business and want to sell the property to the Chinatown Development Corp.

The CDC wants to turn the property into a gravel parking lot, and eventually develop a seniors’ housing complex.

The building is listed on the historical buildings inventory, but not protected as a heritage site.

"This particular building is 1883, one of the oldest buildings in the downtown. This can never be replaced," said Cindy Tugwell of Heritage Winnipeg.

"This is a very valuable heritage building that takes up an entire city block."

But Ray Wan, a city architect authorized to speak for the building's owner, told CBC News the danger the building poses should be paramount over other concerns.

"[It's] facing a situation that the exterior wall may collapse and go down onto the sidewalk — and create an unsafe environment," Wan said.

Council as a whole must still approve the committee's decision to allow the demolition at a vote later this month.

Mayor called surface lots 'eyesores'

Despite the recommendation to demolish the building, a report from the city's administration suggests some are reluctant to see it torn down.

The report notes that "allowing surface parking on an interim basis may discourage the timely development of the site due to the significant income that is generated at low cost to the owners. The ongoing existence of a surface parking lot would negatively affect the neighbourhood and the downtown."

Consideration should be given to other options, such as minimal upgrading of the existing building for the interim use of tenants such as a restaurant or some other commercial enterprise, the report states.

"It has been the practice of the [city] to not support the creation of new temporary or permanent non-accessory surface parking lots in downtown Winnipeg. Allowing a temporary surface parking lot would set an undesirable precedent for other sites," the report states.

In his recent bid for reelection in Winnipeg's recent civic campaign, Mayor Sam Katz pledged to curb the use of surface parking lots in the city's downtown. He said the lots were "eyesores" that were magnets for crime.