City parkade demolition begins as Market Lands development waits approval

After months of clearing out the interior and prepping the site, the first visible signs of demolition are happening at the city parkade in the Exchange, making way for a re-development of an entire block of the neighbourhood.

Square block of Exchange District to be flattened to make way for housing, public market

Work begins Tuesday on demolition of the Civic Centre parkade. (Warren Kay CBC)

Excavators are taking their first big bites of concrete as Winnipeg's Civic Centre parkade starts to come down.

The demolition is a few months behind schedule, but finally chunks of long-shuttered parkade are falling and the abandoned former Public Safety Building is next in line for the wrecking crew.

Workers have been steadily removing hazardous materials from the two structures since last fall.

Estimates to tear down the concrete structures have varied over the last four years and currently peg the demolition at $9.7 million. The city has a web page dedicated to the project and is live-streaming the demolition.If plans get a final blessing from city council, a development called the Market Lands will rise out of the rubble, but for the moment the sound of cracking concrete rings across a part of the Exchange.

"I think it becomes a lot more real. People are going to see this site totally differently when those buildings come down and they're going to understand how an opportunity which is this large can actually happen on that site because it is a big site," said Angela Mathieson, the president of CentreVenture.

The 2.4-acre Market Lands development needs council approval on final design and finance details. (CentreVenture)

The city's development arm has been stewarding the design and development process of the block-sized project since 2017.

A design for the 2.4-acre site was approved by council last spring. It will feature a public market, art gallery and exhibition spaces and over 100 suites of mixed-income apartment rentals, some of which would be for approved low-income tenants.

The project is moving to a critical phase as CentreVenture looks to city hall to approve the next moves.

Mathieson says councillors will be briefed on the finance portion of the development, including estimated costs, and how it fits into a national housing co-investment fund program.

"We're designing this building to qualify through those programs. We'll be explaining all of that. We'll be talking about how we're going to go out to the private sector for the development to the north. And then timing — because as you know the buildings are coming down." Mathieson told CBC News.

CentreVenture believes the project could trigger a wave of development north, across blocks of under-used or empty land.

CentreVenture president Angela Mathieson says the first phase of the Market Lands development will hopefully trigger waves of private development outside the 2.4-acre site. (Walther Bernal CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman appears comfortable with the direction the project is heading, lauding the depth of consultation done in the years leading up to demolition of the existing structures on the land.

"I think it's a generational, transformative opportunity for this part of the city and it builds on the investments made by Red River College and so many others in the area. I want to see more customers downtown. I want to see more residents downtown," Bowman told reporters Tuesday following a meeting of his executive policy committee.

Mathieson says CentreVenture is "ready to go" with a briefing for councillors and is just waiting for the calendar to open up to make a visit to City Hall.

Demolition of the two bunker-like structures could take several months and construction may not begin until the following year.


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