Monday, 12 January 2009

Not Learning the "Trizec Lesson"

Writing my Fortress WRHA post made me think of the Trizec Development at Portage and Main: the granddaddy of the bait and switch / promise-what-you-like-to-council-and-deliver-whatever-you-feel-like development / city-please-give-us-some-cash-incentives-to-build-here scheme. I have blogged about it before (read it here) so won't go into all the gory details but I decided to hit the microfiche to see what was sold to council.

In January 1974 Trizec presented their much anticipated proposal to council. Val Werrier was there and described the unveiled plan this way:

"A transparent five storey bank at the corner of Portage and Main: two office towers separated by a winter garden and a hotel: above and below level retail and department store space".
Winnipeg Tribune,18 January 1974, p6)

Concerned about the scale ? Well, don't worry as council was told "...the bank itself will be set back 60 feet from the corner and the architect promises there will be greenery and sod and trees at the apex".

This is what it was supposed to look like:

In exchange, the city had to provide concessions. The "big two" at the time were to sink, literally, $11m into building the underground parkade / foundation as well as to take care of the costs and legal battles for expropriating the properties on the block right back to Graham Ave.

There was suspicion at the time that a bait and switch might be afoot. One Trib reporter (same edition cited above, p.5) noted that "... city councillors had little else to go on than the instincts of inexperienced gamblers..." when they approved the deal.

Werrier addressed the bait and switch issue:

"There are some who are concerned that Trizec will not carry out the designs as presented. James A Soden, president of Trizec, promised that he will and from his past record in other developments I have reason to believe he will live up to his commitments..." (p 6)

Well, this weekend marks the 35th anniversary of the deal. You can go check out the parking structure, touch the foundation, peer into the empty space where the expropriated buildings once stood. Unfortunately, you won't be able to stare out from one tower to the other, or stroll through the winter garden, or grab a drink in the hotel lounge.


BeerBellyBuddah said...

Excellent! Your use of historical docs is apt - all too often the collective WE get saddled with the downsides of projects that THEY promised would never occur.

Today's City Council is no more enlightened. Nary a bright bulb amongst them!

cancelbot said...

I guess you can indeed fool all of the people all of the time, if by "people" one is referring to City Council.

The more things change...