Monday, March 24, 2008

When it rains...

Tomorrow morning, Ken Zaifman will be at City Hall, to try and convince the Standing Committee on Property Planning and Development (Mayor Katz, Councillors Swandel, Fielding, Vandal, and Wyatt) to de-list the Albert Street Business Block. This is the second time this year that Mr. Zaifman will have appeared at City Hall, to try and convince Councillors that. It seems that since his last visit his January, he hasn't come up with anything new to sell his idea--just the same architectural drawing and extortion-like threats about how he'll turn the St. Charles into a fleabag SRO hotel again, filling up Albert Street with hoards of drunken panhandlers.

Also on the agenda tomorrow is an appeal by architect Ray Wan to downgrade the heritage designation of the Grain Exchange Annex at 153 Lombard (ultimately to demolish it for a parkade).

In regards to the Grain Exchange Annex, a man on the inside writes of the impressively elaborate scheme to demolish the Grain Exchange Annex: "[I]t appears they first thought they had to change the main Grain Exchange building from a Grade 2 to 3 to allow the Annex to be demolished, but were advised to get the Annex listed separately instead. Unfortunately, if it is listed as a Grade 3 as the summary report indicates, it can be demolished 'if the owners prove that it is necessary.'"

One troubling aspect of this is what a Mr. Sid Storey wrote to the City Clerk's office, found on page nine of the agenda:
"The owners of the Grain Exchange buildings have been encouraged by both the Winnipeg Parking Authority and the Forks North Portage Partnership to construct a parking structure to meet the demands on downtown parking created by the growth of Waterfront Drive and the pending Canadian Humanities Museum. The structure, if constructed on the site of the Annex, could access the skywalk system through the Grain Exchange Building."

If the WPA and FNPP really are encouraging this, it would show that the threat to Winnipeg's historic neighborhoods (starting of course with the smaller, 'less significant' buildings) is not ongoing just because of a few lone, backward-thinking property owners, but because of public agencies and sometimes, City Hall. This is obvious with Centre Venture's plan for North Main, and in the City's Heritage Building's Committee's removal of two North Main buildings from the Historical Buildings Index last week. Not even the centre of the Exchange District is safe.

One must always remember that the Exchange District (or other historical neighborhoods like North Main) are not defined by their best, most ornate, most 'significant' heritage buildings, but by the integrity of their streetscapes. The whole will always be greater than the sum of its parts, and the integrity and viability of the whole will always suffer if lesser parts are taken away--particularly for the purpose of erecting a parking structure to serve condos that already have sufficient on-site parking, and a "Canadian Humanities Museum" that will be a ten-minute walk away.

Once these small, inconspicuous buildings are gone, other buildings will surely take their place as those deemed small, insignificant and expendable.


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