Saturday, 31 December 2011

Year End Clearance: Disappointment of the year

One of the most disappointing stories of 2011 for me was the January demolition of 925 Logan Avenue at Arlington, (the Ontario Wind Engine and Pump / Regal Furniture building), by owner Minhas Creek. It wasn't even the demolition itself, but the collection of information gaps and bad practices that it brought together.

Winnipeg CIty Hall
First off, I'd like to tell you more information about the application but can't because it's nowhere to be found on the City Clerk's Decision Making Information System. That's the site that is supposed to be a repository of the city's council committee meeting agendas and minutes.

I'm fairly certain that went before committee meeting(s) because I saw a snippet in the newspaper after the fact. Missing information is a huge weakness of the 'System' that I run into time and time again. I certainly wouldn't do any important decision making based on the DMIS and hope that behind the scenes the city itself relies on a better medium for its information.

Anecdotal story: I once called a committee clerk to ask about a meeting that I attended a couple of weeks earlier about why I couldn't find the outcomes on the DMIS. I was told 'oops', they forgot to put it up and to check back the next day and it would be up.

925 Logan and Arlington
The second aspect of the story that I found maddening was the lack of knowledge or interest about the building by those who are supposed to advocate (or choose not to advocate) for its architectural or historic merit.

According to Free Press coverage neither the city nor Heritage Winnipeg knew anything about the building.
"Nobody even knows the date it was built," Heritage Winnipeg's E.D. told the paper.

How can a recommendation be made about a building if that's the extent of the information available ? In a fairly short time I was able to compile a fairly extensive history of the building (including the year it was built) from the comfort of my dining room table using only on-line sources.

For decades Winnipeg heritage advocates and the city have concentrated on a very small geographic area. That's been a good thing. If not, the Exchange District would surely look like the blocks on the other side of Portage Avenue, a sea of desolate surface parking lots. A fraction of that interest, though, needs to extend to other areas and eras of buildings.

As the old airport terminal 'debate' showed, interest that should have been expressed years ago ended up being a last minute 'desperation' campaign launched well after the building was originally scheduled to be vacated.

925 Logan Avenue, Winnipeg
An often-used tactic to ensure the acceptance of your demolition permit is to float a vague idea or artist's drawing of future development. In this case, Manjit Minhas spun the idea of a new brewery and 100 jobs which the Free Press pumped in their story Brewery may rise after run-down landmark falls:

Manjit Minhas said the company hopes to build a brewery at the Winnipeg site within two years, and would employ around 100 people at the facility. The Wisconsin brewery is at capacity and sales are growing, she said.

Well, that simply wasn't the case. Five weeks before the Free Press story the company issued a news release saying that they had completed a feasibility study for building a brewery "from scratch" in Ontario (after being shut out of buying the Labatt brewery in Hamilton) but found it to be too expensive a proposition.

Soon after the demolition the
DTZ Barnicke for sale sign went back up on the property and their on-line listing changed from that of a four storey building to an empty lot. I wonder how many of the inner city's surface parking lots began this way ? (For another 2011 example see OMC's "...bait and switch on Portage".)

925 Logan Avenue, Winnipeg Arlington at Logan
Finally, what an eyesore that has been left since its January 2011 demolition.

Yes, we're only talking about the inner city so what's left on display after a demo is of little significance to most. Still, it is a prominent corner and the ugly side of the Minhas Creek warehouse that's been left for the past 12 months will surely be there for the
years / decades to come until a new building ends up on the site.

The last gasp for a dying corner ? One Man Committee
Arlington Street bridge Closed for Weekend Winnipeg Free Press

More Year End Clearance !
- Top stories of 2011
- Top blog posts of 2011
- Most disappointing story of 2011
- Completed developments

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