A story R:ED broke to the media, which resulted in a groundswell of support for the Exchange District, has forced Manitoba Hydro to cancel their plans to purchase three buildings on McDermot Avenue and gut them for a sub-station (story). Manitoba Hydro President Bob Brennan announced the buildings will not be purchased and Hydro will look at other options. He also said they will “have the community involved”
Clearly, saving three wonderful heritage buildings from being gutted and transformed into a façade is a significant win for Winnipeg’s Exchange District. Had it gone through, the effect of this project would have been devastating to the heart of this community.
This “win” is about more than saving three buildings. The common belief is the typical Winnipegger’s only opinion on downtown is to complain about the three P’s: parking, pan-handlers and potholes. The large groundswell against the Hydro proposal clearly shows the Exchange District holds a special place in the hearts of many in Winnipeg.
True feelings emerge when a threat is present. When this story was made front-page news, Winnipeg sat up and said, “hold on!” Newspaper articles and letters to the editor referred to the Exchange as "Winnipeg’s jewel." As residents, we know the Exchange is a treasure, but the affection that Winnipeg holds for its National Historical district was underestimated.
So in addition to the immediate “win”, the recent backlash against Manitoba Hydro would give second thoughts to anyone else thinking of coming into this area with plans to demolish. We also gained from having the jewel of Winnipeg in the provincial spotlight for a couple of weeks. While that spotlight has turned to other issues, maybe the focus of attention will assist us in addressing some of the issues in the area.
We have saved these buildings from being embalmed – but more importantly, how do we put life back into them? These heritage buildings, and many others, need to be developed for residential use so we can fill the Exchange with people and see the vibrant and lively community we all want.
Manitoba Hydro has confirmed they are looking at purchasing Exchange District buildings in order to build a new sub-station. Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider confirmed that the existing Hydro substation at 48 King Street was inadequate and that Hydro was “looking at adjacent property.”
Hydro has confirmed they are looking to buy three buildings on McDermot Avenue. All three are on the City of Winnipeg conservation list. Glenn Schneider told John Giavedoni, Chair of the Residents of the Exchange District (R:ED) that “Hydro will respect the heritage nature” and would “maintain the façade” of any buildings they converted. They have also confirmed that conversion to a sub-station would involve gutting all or part of the existing heritage buildings.
The buildings they are considering look from the outside to be perfect for condo development, with a great location and large bright windows. We have been told that prior to the interest in the buildings by Manitoba Hydro, the building owner was looking at doing a condo conversion.
The target buildings are The Wilson Building (Allen Building) at 288 McDermot, Glengarry Block at 290 McDermot and Daylite Building at 296 McDermot.
According to City of Winnipeg documents, the Wilson Building “is a six-story brick building constructed in 1905 [and] is one component in a well-integrated series of turn-of-the-century buildings on the south side of McDermot Avenue between Princess and King streets.”
The seven story Glengarry Block features a simple neoclassical design and was built in 1910 for $51,000.
The Daylite Building was built in 1899 with four stories in the Richardsonian Romanesque style with red brick facing and rough-hewn Tyndall stone trim. Large brick arches surround the main floor windows on both McDermot and Princess. Two additional stories were added in 1904.
The Exchange District is a National Historical Site because of buildings like these. The only way we can ensure the area thrives is to ensure it survives as a community. A condo conversion will put residents in the area. A hydro sub-station creates a dead zone. A sub-station will not create growth for the restaurants, coffee shops, galleries and theatres in the area. It will not fill the area with people, making us all feel safer. A gutted building full of equipment will not preserve or enhance the area.
Manitoba Hydro promised the office move to Portage Avenue would add to the downtown revitalization. So why are they secretly looking to buy these buildings and have a negative effect on revitalization? This sub-station proposal should not be allowed. The City of Winnipeg needs to look at how to develop a vibrant community in the Exchange District and downtown, and not just how to preserve a façade.
We want to live in a thriving community of residents and businesses, not a movie-lot neighbourhood where the streetscape is a façade with nothing behind it but the history that has been left behind.
On Jan 22, 2009, Manitoba Hydro released the following press release:
It may be too early to celebrate. They do not say it is cancelled, they say plans are being reviewed. As an "interested group" we need to stay tuned...
Manitoba Hydro has announced today that it is reviewing its overall plans for improving electrical service and meeting growing demand for downtown Winnipeg. This includes plans that would expand its substation at 64 King St. onto nearby properties.
Manitoba Hydro President and CEO Bob Brennan said that the Corporation respects community standards and will work with interested groups to find a proposal that will work for all parties.