McLaren owner wants to build new 'dignified living' space next to Main Street hotel

Councillors on Winnipeg's property and planning committee were supposed to consider placing the 110-year-old hotel on the city's list of historical resources. Instead, its owner proposed a major affordable housing project.

110-year-old Winnipeg hotel moves closer to historical designation as plans revealed for development next door

A close up photo of the corner of a red brick building.
Main Street Project says it would work with the owners of the McLaren Hotel on a new residence project next door, and would provide programming for McLaren residents. (CBC)

A meeting to consider heritage designation for the McLaren Hotel on Thursday also included the revelation of a partnership between its owner and the Main Street Project, and details on a proposed new project that would include affordable housing.

The City of Winnipeg's property, planning and development committee, which voted 3-1 Thursday in favour of a long-delayed motion to add the 110-year-old Main Street hotel to the city's list of historical resources, also heard about the owner's plans for a new housing project next to the McLaren.

Hotel owner Rubi Gill told councillors he wants to build a "dignified living" space on the gravel lot he owns next door, and has opened an office for Main Street Project staff inside the McLaren Hotel.

Gill told councillors he wants to leverage city and provincial tax incremental financing plans to do upgrades to the existing hotel and build the new 108-suite housing project next door.

That way, Gill told councillors, he could afford to keep the old building's heritage features intact.

The property owner says his family has owned the seven-storey McLaren for 17 years, and it houses approximately 150 residents.

Main Street Project executive director Rick Lees confirmed the partnership with Gill at the McLaren. The agency is already doing social work support for some residents of the McLaren through an office in the hotel. 

Lees also says the Main Street Project is supportive of the new residential project.

"We have indicated MSP would be prepared to work with Rubi [Gill] to develop a supportive housing model similar to the Bell Hotel and provide/deliver services within the facility," Lees told CBC News. 

Following Thursday's vote, a decision on the historic designation now moves to the city's executive policy committee.

A decision on the heritage designation for the hotel had been delayed repeatedly since last September. The owners of the hotel wanted a further delay on the heritage status vote to secure funding to develop the adjacent property and help pay for protecting the heritage elements of the building.

Former city councillor Russ Wyatt and McClaren Hotel owner Rubi Gill are looking for support for a 12-storey residence with an affordable housing component. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Former Transcona city councillor Russ Wyatt is working with Gill and others on the project. He told the property committee one of the goals was to preserve the exterior of old hotel, so the group came up with a plan for developing the property next door.

"Is there a way to leverage that parking lot to help finance the cost of preserving the building?" Wyatt said.

The solution they came up with with was a plan to build a 12-storey building with one-third of the 108 suites designated as affordable housing.

The group is pursuing a property management agreement with the not-for-profit Winnipeg Housing to run the property.

Wyatt says they are hoping to qualify for federal funding, as well as getting support from the province and the city.

Important, 'very conspicuous' building: Heritage Winnipeg

Cindy Tugwell with Heritage Winnipeg says her organization supports using older buildings for affordable housing, but she doesn't understand why the owners would tie plans for the new building to the issue of heritage designation.

"We support the owner, but we cannot go on the record in good faith that the designation be tied to a new building," Tugwell told the committee.

Tugwell says much of the work that needs to be done at the McLaren would be annual maintenance and not necessarily linked to heritage preservation. She says she reviewed the city work permits obtained by the owners of the McLaren Hotel over the last 20 years, and found only $12,000 worth of work completed.

From a heritage perspective, the McLaren Hotel, at the corner of Main and Rupert Avenue, just across the street from the Manitoba Museum and the Centennial Concert Hall, is a "very, very important, very conspicuous building," said Tugwell.

'At a loss' on heritage direction: Mayes

Property, planning and development committee chair Brian Mayes appeared frustrated with his colleagues, as they voted against him and approved heritage status for the building.

The committee had recently voted against placing the Somerset Building on Portage Avenue on the list of historical resources. But the St. Vital councillor said he sees similarities in the two properties, and inconsistencies on how votes are going at city hall.

"I am at a loss as to where we are going on heritage matters, quite frankly," said Mayes.

Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) urged Gill to take the proposed project to the city's housing committee, where some grants could potentially be available to support it.