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Wednesday 9 July 2008

Parkades and Charades

Portage and Main

The City of Winnipeg is thinking of selling off the Winnipeg Square parkade.

There's a lot of history behind that hole in the ground.

It was the 1970s. Good times, wide collars, Expo 67 was over and Winnipeg's centennial year was coming up. The downtown mega-development had been all the rage in North America for a few years and Winnipeg wanted one of its own.

n 1970, Trizec, a Canadian development company, came to inquire about building a multi-tower complex at the southwest corner of Portage and Main. Their interest had been piqued by the recently opened Richardson Building.

The dazzling Trizec Development.

It took a few years to work out the details, but in 1974 a deal in principle was signed... "Trizec unveiled plans and sketches involving two 34 storey office towers, a regional bank building for the Bank of Nova Scotia, a 220 room hotel - with total rentable space of more than one million square feet at a cost of over $80m". (pp 92 - 92)

The city was asked to conribute about $12m towards the development, a big jump from the $5m figure floated earlier in the planning process. In the end, its contribution was
in the form of a three-storey underground parkade that would also act as the foundation for much of the above ground structures, plus the cost of expropriating the buildings and land needed to build the development.

To offset some of this cost, Trizec would lease the airspace above the parkade for $175k per year for a period of 99 years.

Dec 1974. U of M Archives, Tribune Collection, No. PC 18/6558/18-5672-022

On June 2, 1976, the city voted to put the contract for the parkade's construction  out to tender.

The journey to get it built was a rough one but the city had so much invested in the development that it could not turn back. It ended up on the hook for an extra half a million dollars in construction costs for additional pillars and an extra $2m for tunnelling to figure out how to create a second entry / exit point for the parking facility (p 143).

A second major project at the intersection, an underground concourse linking all four intersections, was also in the final stages of discussion.

It became clear as negotiations wrapped up with the four corner's major property owners that the city was going to have to speed up the concourse project to coincide with that of the parkade development. This cost the city an additional $350k (p 113).

Other aspects of the two underground projects went over budget and some partners backed out.

In November 1978, the parkade and concourse opened to the public.

Portage and Main Demo
Richardson building demolition - Future Trizec corner in background

In the end, despite the original agreement reached between the city and Trizec, "...the developer refused to commit to building more than 300,000 square feet ...." (p 93).

Trizec built the approximately 600,000 sq ft
tower that is there now but the second tower and hotel development (and their tax revenues) never materialized.

As for the parkade, the city built it using revenue projections of a $54 a month parking rate. Once opened, the demand was not as great due to the smaller development and the parkade could only charge $34 per month.

With no prior experience with a construction project this size or dealing with an eastern mega-developer like Trizec, the city was screwed. You could almost write a book about it. Hey, wait, someone did !

Check out David Walker's
The Great Winnipeg Dream (the page numbers above refer to this book). A summary version from Walker can be found in The Second City Book (Lorimer).

If you can, check out newspapers of the day, especially May and June 1976. That was when final negotiations were underway and the media, to that point cheerleaders of the project, started looking at the true cost to the city.

At the time of The Great Winnipeg Dream's publication in 1979, Walker estimated that the $12m in city funding ended up more like $20
(p 148) and the project wasn't yet completed.

Joe Zuken: Citizen and Socialist, Zuken estimated that the city's contribution, including borrowing costs, was more in the range of $35 million. That is almost on par with the $40m invested by Trizec (p 222).

Whatever the outcome of the parkade debate at city hall, I hope the city squeezes every nickel they can get out of the thing !

UPDATE: wherever the Freep got the $3.5 m price tag for the parkade, I have no clue. They need to do a bit more research into their own newspaper's archives.

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