Friends of Upper Fort Garry get surface parking for 2 years

The city's down town development committee bent the rules Monday to allow the Friends of Upper Fort Garry to keep their surface parking lot for two years.
Friends of Fort Garry successfully lobbied the city to keep a surface parking lot accessible to the public in the area of Main Street and Fort Street May 25. (CBC)

Downtown surface parking lots have been targeted by city hall for several years, but honouring history trumped redevelopment at a committee hearing Monday morning.

The Friends of Upper Fort Garry asked councillors on the downtown development, heritage and riverbank management committee to allow their organization to keep a surface parking lot at their Main Street and Fort Street park site.

City staff had recommended against allowing the lot. The downtown development committee heard an appeal by the Friends of Upper Fort Garry Monday hoping to keep the parking spaces for the next two years.

The city has some tax incentives in place to encourage downtown property owners to convert surface lots into commercial or residential spaces. There have been calls to tax surface lot owners more aggressively to accelerate the conversion.

Park parking

The Friends of Upper Fort Garry began fundraising in 2007 to turn the historic site, often called the birthplace of Winnipeg, into a park and interpretive site. To date the group has raised $13 million. The property was designated a provincial park last summer.

The Friends of Upper Fort Garry hope to open the park this June, but need the surface parking lot that already exists on the site to continue to operate both for the parking and for the revenue it generates.
Jerry Gray with Friends of Upper Fort Garry said he doesn't want a permanent surface lot in the area of Fort Street and Main Street. But he's happy the city decided to allow the group to keep the lot near the coming-interpretive centre for the next two years. (CBC)

Jerry Gray chairs the Friends of Upper Fort Garry and spoke to the committee Monday. He said the surface lot will be used in the short term for parking for patrons of the soon-to-open park.

"Parking on the street in that area is very dicey," he said. "This will allow people to park when they visit the site."

Gray said the surface lot currently generates much-needed revenue that supports the redevelopment of the site. 

"We only have one source of funds, that's donations," Grey told the committee.

Gerbasi against surface lot

Councilor Jenny Gerbasi was the most vocal with her worries about the surface parking lot.

"It is a very unique situation. I'm not thrilled about it. It is a bit more unique than some other situations. But having said that I still have concerns about what's going to happen in two years."

Gray told the committee the next phases of the Upper Fort Garry redevelopment will include an interpretive centre and classrooms, with an underground parking facility below.

"It's very important to us in terms of being sustainable because that parking garage and the rental space inside the centre will make this project very sustainable," Gray said.

The committee voted unanimously to allow the surface lot on the site, but only for two years. Jerry Gray readily agreed the lot would be gone and didn't blame the councilors for their concerns.

"We don't want permanent parking there obviously and we are happy to go by the two-year condition."

Downtown development committee chair Brian Mayes said he supported allowing the group to keep the lot for the next two years, but noted he and his colleagues on council will likely still be in office by that time and would not allow the surface lot to survive beyond the date they have set.


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