Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Here we go again...

Last winter, when City Hall said they were not interested in letting Mr. Zaifman bring the suburbs to the finest little street in the city's most distinct and important neighborhood by demolishing a strip of businesses and the remnant of a 130-year-old house for a parking lot, Zaifman warned he would regroup and try again. Here he is.

At first, it would seem he's now more sensitive to the Albert St streetscape, and to the house he wants to turn into a driveway. On CBC Radio this morning, he said that he would take down the house and build an open-air "interperative centre" built to the scale and form of the house, with benches, etc. (Think: a highway rest stop with a replicated shallow pitched roof). Lest a way-station sitting beside a parking lot sounds less than desirable to anyone but the leisurely indigent making the walk from Portage Place to the North Main soup lines, Zaifman says that historical pictures of the house will be added, though he admits he has not found any. (As someone who has done extensive research of Winnipeg's history, I have yet to come across any photograph showing this house.)

Anyway, once you listen to Zaifman for a while, you find out that he isn't the reformed parking lot developer who's ready to look for a compromise [to the historical and physical integrity of the Exchange District...], but an even more cantankerous individual who's upping the ante, stooping further to extortion-like tactics to get his parking lot and driveway.

He continues to hold the integrity of the Exchange District hostage. On CBC Radio, he admitted that in spite of him owning the building for more than a year, he has done no renovations to the St. Charles. Renovations, he said, are pending the approval of his planned parking lot and driveway.

He concluded his interview on CBC Radio with a warning: "This is an important part of what we want to do. I can't predict what people are going to do, but this is sort of the last go I'm going to have at it.. If it works, it works. And if it doesn't, we'll bring back mud wrestling to the St. Charles Hotel." (A nod to the St. Charles' recent past as a rough flophouse hotel with a beverage room that featured striptease acts and mud-wrestling.)

In other words: give me what I want, City Council, Exchange District BIZ, Heritage Winnipeg, and surrounding businesses, and I won't turn the clock back ten years for Albert Street by bringing a new flophouse and a rowdy bar to the corner Notre Dame and Albert St.

It's not even about having enough on-site parking spots for his yet-to-begin boutique motel venture, it's the principle--however warped and frustrated that principle may be. If it was a simple want of more parking spots, he would have agreeed to sit down and talk with Daren Jorgenson, the new owner of the Royal Albert, and a man with enough acumen to realize that a gap-toothed streetscape is bad for business. Mr. Jorgenson has recently engaged in exhaustive email correspondance, trying in vain to negotiate some of the Royal Albert's parking spaces to Mr. Zaifman.

In the emails, Mr. Zaifman sounded at least tepidly receptive to the idea, but in the Free Press today, he told reporter Bartley Kives:
"Jorgenson's offer is irrelevant, Zaifman countered, because his neighbour does not own the Business Block. "We're talking about something that will never happen," Zaifman said."

Were Jorgenson successful in his attempts to acquire the threatened Albert Street Business Block, the shop in front of the 1878 house would be demolished, and the house restored or re-built as a tourism centre and coffee shop. The other one or two shopfronts would be renovated and continue to be used for commercial purposes. Currently, these two spaces house an excellent tailor's shop, and a Chinese restaurant, who, when they are open, serve some of the best Wonton soup in the city (though the Yale Hotel's cafe certainly gives them a run for their money).


"I don't think it is fair to say that the owners of the business block have neglected their building and it serves the purposes of its tenants quite adequately. In fact they have gone out of their way not to lease the remaining space to tenants that would be detrimental to the area." Zaifman is reported to have said, defending Globe Properties, who currently own the Albert Street Business Block.

Nevermind that broken shop windows go unrepaired (nevermind unplacarded) for months--a direct violation of the City's Vacant and Derilict Buildings By-law. And nevermind that the most recent tenant Globe Properties leased the vacant shopfront and 1878 house to, was a store that sold little else but merchandise for an outlaw motorcycle gang (the businesses name can still be seen through the window). Before that, the space was a tattoo parlour.

If this is what Ken Zaifman considers to be not neglecting the property, and not being detrimental to the area, do we really want more property owners like him in the Exchange Distict? With property owners like that, maybe mud-wrestling wouldn't be so bad after all.


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