Historic designation threatens development, say Canad Inns owners

The owners of Canad Inns hotel chain say a historical designation on the Somerset Building on Portage Avenue could stymie plans the company has to develop and connect its four properties in the downtown.

Portage Avenue's Somerset Building 'old and kind of nice, but that's it,' says Lea Ledohowski

Somerset Building, right, and Radisson Hotel are both part of Ledohowski's plans for Canad Place. (Jaison Empson/CBC )

Adding the Somerset Building to the city's list of historical resources would jeopardize plans Canad Inns has for its downtown properties, says the company.

The development would link four of the company's properties together under one name — Canad Place.

Canad Inn's owner Leo Ledohowski and his daughter Lea, who runs the company, opposed the historical designation of the Portage Avenue building at the city's property and planning committee on Monday. 

The designation would protect some of the 113-year-old building's facades and interior features.

"This particular building just doesn't meet the criteria that would warrant an historic designation. It just doesn't," Lea Ledohowski said.

Canad Inns, the largest hotel operator in Manitoba, purchased the building two years ago. The company also owns a nearby parkade, the Radisson Hotel and the refurbished Metropolitan Theatre.

Lea Ledohowski, left, and her father Leo say 'just because it [the Somerset Building] is old doesn't mean it's historic.' (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Leo Ledohowski told councillors on the committee Canad Inns was "just weeks away from a massive remodel" of the lobby area of Radisson Hotel.

The company is also planning to redevelop the Somerset Building with a mix of bars, restaurants and retail and connect its properties together in a campus-type remodel under the name Canad Place.

"We're gonna make it a lot nicer ... but we don't want extra costs because [it has] an historic designation," Ledohowski said.

"We got the hotel, we got the Somerset. That's all going to be glazed in. The street is going to be part of the office building, part of the hotel," he said.

Ledohowski says Canad Inns will have spent $150 million on purchasing, renovating and connecting the four properties when the development is completed.

Canad Place would link Radisson Hotel and Somerset Building with Metropolitan Theatre. (Jaison Empson/CBC )

The company led an intensive renovation of the Metropolitan Theatre, completed in 2012.

Lea Ledohowski told the committee "we should not even be here," saying the building is "not particularly unique," and that many of the old facades, windows and old cornices have already been removed or replaced over the years.

She says the city didn't properly contact them as building owners until the spring of 2019, sending letters about the designation process to the wrong address.

The Ledohowskis got some sympathy from Heritage Winnipeg, an organization that usually stubbornly defends historical buildings.

"There should have been dialogue between the Ledohowskis and the City of Winnipeg, for a multi-multimillion-dollar kind of project that was on going over 12 years? Should have happened a long time ago," Heritage Winnipeg's Cindy Tugwell told reporters.

The Canad Place project was a surprise to the chair of the property, planning and development committee.

"That was news to me. Sounds like a good, big project for downtown, but I didn't know anything about it," Brian Mayes said.

Mayes says he appreciates what the Ledohowskis have done for the city, but "we will treat them the same as we treat other building owners."

Tugwell believes a compromise should be found that preserves the building itself but doesn't get lost in trying to save small parts such as exterior facades or cornices.

The planning, property and development committee split its vote 2–2, sending the heritage designation decision on to the city's executive policy committee without any recommendation.


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