Long-vacant buildings spring to life
Portage Avenue complexes to bring hundreds of people downtown
By: Murray McNeill
Winnipeg Free Press – April 27, 2011
An artist’s rendering of the Avenue Building (above), which is currently undergoing renovations (below).
The landing of a long-term office tenant for the once-derelict Avenue Building is expected to bring an average of 400 more people a day to one of the most uninhabited stretches of downtown Portage Avenue.
Fatima Soares, the executive director of Employment Solutions for Immigrants Inc./Manitoba Starts, confirmed Tuesday the not-for-profit agency has signed a 15-year deal to lease the main floor of the Avenue Building and the existing three floors of the neighbouring Hample Building. The long-vacant former office buildings are located on the north side of Portage between Smith and Garry streets.
(WAYNE GLOWACKI/ WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
Soares said about 400 clients and employees will be coming and going from the 22,000-square-foot centre on an average day. And beginning as soon as next year, the centre will begin offering evening and weekend classes and workshops.
The extra evening and weekend pedestrian traffic is the icing on the cake for the chief executive of CentreVenture Development Corp., the downtown development agency that spearheaded efforts to redevelop the Avenue Building.
“It’s enormous in terms of getting confidence back in the street (Portage Avenue) and putting more legs on the street,” Ross McGowan said in an interview.
The leasing agent for the two buildings — Wayne Sato of Cushman & Wakefield — also expects big things from the influx of people.
“It’s going to do wonders for that block in terms of the activity it’s going to drive.”
Sato said the increased pedestrian traffic, coupled with the 70 new tenants/families who will be living on the upper floors of the two buildings, could spark more commercial development in the area.
“Once you get that residential population there, it’s going to create some opportunities for retailers,” he said, adding he had calls from several retailers who also wanted to lease some of the commercial space.
With Employment Solutions grabbing four floors, developers Mark and Rick Hofer now plan to add another three storeys onto the Hample Building.
That will make it the same height as the Avenue Building and create room for the 24 apartments that were to have gone on the second and third floors of the Hample Building.
Rick Hofer said the expansion will add about $1.5 million to the cost of the redevelopment, which is now pegged at about $12.4 million.
He said they hope to begin working on the addition within the next couple of weeks. They’re just waiting for the city to issue a building permit.
In the meantime, work is continuing on the 46 one-bedroom apartments being built in the Avenue Building. Mark Hofer said the first 25 residents are expected to move in by late May or early June. The rest will be phased in over the summer and fall, with the goal of having everyone, including Employment Solutions, in before the end of the year.
Soares said the provincially and federally funded agency will be able to consolidate three operations under one roof, saving both time and money.
She said the agency wanted to be on downtown Portage because it’s centrally located, has good bus connections and is close to the offices of the Winnipeg and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce and several other agencies that provide services to new immigrants.