Plan for Esplanade Riel space faces critics but gets approval from Winnipeg city council committee

A proposal to put an office and meeting space into the former restaurant on Winnipeg's Esplanade Riel has drawn criticism from some St. Boniface community organizations, but it passed a vote at city hall Tuesday.

Not-for-profit tech startup company gets go-ahead for lease for iconic location

After three restaurants that failed to make a go in the space, a new tenant will get five years to make the location work. (CBC)

A proposal to put an office and meeting space into the former restaurant on Winnipeg's Esplanade Riel drew criticism from some St. Boniface community organizations, but passed a vote at city hall.

The not-for-profit Manitoba Technology Accelerator's proposal was the choice of the city's real estate division, the city's property and planning committee of city hall heard Tuesday.

The CEO of Enterprises Riel, the St. Boniface area's economic development and destination marketing agency, raised concerns about the proposal for the space on the Provencher Bridge.

"The issue, if I may be so bold, is that the site should not be viewed as a typical civic property that should be leased simply to get the best return," Normand Gousseau told councillors on the committee Tuesday.

Gousseau's concerns were echoed by St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard, who called on the councillors on the committee to vote against the recommendation of city staff and start another search for new renter. 

St Boniface Coun. Matt Allard called on the city's property committee to look for other proposals for the iconic space on Esplanade Riel. (Jaison Empson/CBC )

"We can decide what we want for this probably most iconic site in Winnipeg as opposed to what I fear is a rushed process," Allard said. 

The concerns come despite the failures of three restaurant operators to make a profit in the space, which has sat empty for nearly two years.

There were two bids for the five-year, $20,000 per year lease.

The Manitoba Technology Accelerator, which provides support for tech startups in the province, agreed it would cover all the costs to operate the building and do $240,000 in renovations.

New tenant promises community access

The business incubator's CEO, Marshall Ring, is enthusiastic about the 4,000-square-foot Esplanade Riel space.

"We really believe that Winnipeg should be a world-class city. It's close to a world-class city, but it's hard if its most famous landmarks sit empty," Ring told reporters after making his presentation to the committee.

"So our vision is vibrancy."

Ring heard concerns from Allard and Heritage Saint-Boniface president Walter Kleinschmit during the meeting and attempted to allay some of those worries.

"Dialogue on this is the best way to make sure that it is the right option for as many people as possible, and we think this is going to be a point of celebration for a whole lot of organizations, not just MTA," Ring said.

Marshall Ring, the CEO of the Manitoba Technology Accelerator, promised to meet with community stakeholders about his plans for the bridge location. (Jaison Empson/CBC )

He told the committee the industrial kitchen would remain in the space and community organizations will also be able to use it. His organization is willing to put up five years of rent in advance if necessary, Ring said.

"If they want to know that I've got five years of funding to pay that rent, I will pay it right now, because I'm not backing down on this."

The assurances did not quell Allard's concerns.

"Yes, a lot of this sounds compelling, but on the 'back to the details level' we don't have it. And we could request the detail and we don't have it. That's why I asked the committee today to vote no," he said. 

Despite Allard's concerns the committee — which Allard is not a member of — unanimously agreed with the recommendation of the real estate division and voted in favour of the new lease.

The company could start renovations in the space as early as this fall. 


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