Larger number of shorter buildings planned for Railside development at The Forks

The latest plan to transform a large surface lot at The Forks into a mixed-use development calls for shorter buildings, less parking and a wider mix of developers.

Latest plan to build up The Forks also makes room for smaller developers

A tweak to the Forks plan to develop some parking lots triggered more finger-pointing at property and planning department. (Forks Renewal Corporation)

The latest plan to transform a large surface lot at The Forks into a mixed-use development calls for shorter buildings, less parking and a wider mix of developers.

The Forks Renewal Corporation has tweaked its plans to develop the 5.9-acre parcel of land known as the Railside development, which is sandwiched between the CN Rail highline and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

The new plan calls for 20 or more buildings on the Railside land to rise to a height of no more than six storeys in order to maintain a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere at The Forks, according to documents published by the city last week. The previous plan called for three large towers.

"We firmly believe that after six storeys, there's no more connection to the street," Forks-North Portage CEO Paul Jordan said Monday in an interview.

The new plan also calls for fewer dedicated surface-parking stalls to be placed on the site as The Forks figures out a long-term solution to its parking woes.

Finally, the Railside land will also be divided up into smaller chunks in order to allow a greater number of developers to take a crack at building a mix of residential, commercial and retail units at the site.

"We're accessible to a lot more different kind of developers: small developers, young and up-and-comers. If we were doing one big master developer, we're really limiting as to who is out there and who has that wherewithal," Jordan said.

An initial call for developers interested in the Railside land, issued by The Forks in May, yielded dozens of responses from local and national firms, Jordan said. Somewhere between 15 or 18 will be qualified to issue formal development proposals, Jordan said.

"Now we have to wade through it all and figure out which are those we'd like to partner with," he said. "If out of these 15 to 20, we get three or four really good projects, I'd be delighted."

Jordan said The Forks will spend three or four months deciding on development partners. Then archeological work will be conducted at the site, which has been a gathering place for indigenous Canadians for 6,000 years.

Work on the new development should begin in 2018, Jordan said. In the mean time, The Forks will put off plans to develop Parcel Four, the 5.7-acre city-owned gravel parking lot to the north of the Railside land.

A report bound for council's property committee on Tuesday morning calls for the transfer of Parcel Four to The Forks to be put off until the Railside land is developed. It also asks the city to reaffirm its commitment to allowing new property taxes generated by the development of the Railside land to be plowed back into the development, rather than city coffers.

Exactly how much money that represents will be determined by what precisely is developed at the Railside land, according to the report.

"We are committing to a TIF," said council property chair John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry), referring to tax-increment financing, the formal name for the funding mechanism that allows new property taxes to be returned to developers. "What that TIF will be, we'll have to wait and see what the plan is."

The Forks is also preparing to move its head offices into Union Station, just west of the Railside land.

"We have all sorts of plans as to how we can use Union Station as a pedestrian portal into The Forks," Jordan said.

The city also has long-term plans to utilize Union Station as a rapid-transit hub that would connect the existing Southwest Transitway with the future East Transitway, which would connect downtown with Transcona.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.