Sunday 11 September 2011

Waterfront hotel experiencing development hostility

What a glorious day it was yesterday. I stood outside as the sweet warm breeze ruffled my hair, and airplane vapor trails hung in the blue sky like scattered chopsticks. Yet here I was thinking about Gordon Sinclair. Damn you, Sinclair.

You see, I happened across Sinc's latest editorial atrocity while reading the Saturday Free Press this morning. But to give you a little background: a few years ago Gordon Sinclair was a key player in the effort to stop a residential development (something that everybody agrees is critical to the vitality of downtown Winnipeg) at the corner of Assiniboine and Fort St. in order to build an interpretive centre for Upper Fort Garry. He led the deceptive PR campaign with repeated "save the fort" columns in the Free Press, giving people the impression that a critical piece of our history would be destroyed, when in fact the only thing that would be destroyed was a deteriorating surface-level parking lot. Ultimately this PR campaign and a little backroom arm-twisting was successful in pushing out the developer in favour of a park that has yet to begin construction and has already ballooned in cost to $22 million, over twice the original estimate.

So it was with this as a mental backdrop that I read Sinclair's piece today, where he explains that an empty parking lot on Waterfront Drive is actually an irreplacable part of our history because somebody "contends" that Selkirk settlers once planted wheat there, and it was also a gathering place for people during the great strike. He goes on to accuse recent residential development (no, not that again) of "putting the boots to" this historic area, and finishes his ridiculous column in typically sappy fashion:
Now, apparently, a former premier of our province, and our mayor and city council are going to finish the job.
Play the pipes loudly, today boys.
And bang the drums slowly.
Fortunately, the "Friends of History" that are the would-be heros of Gordon's column do not have the clout of the Friends of Upper Fort Garry, so their campaign is much less likely to be successful. However, I happen to know somebody closely involved with the development, and it is not a sure thing at this point. In my conversation with him we didn't get into details about what the sticking points were, but it is conceivable that a coordinated opposition to the project could derail it.

There are great journalists and there are not so good journalists. Not everybody is gifted enough to be one of those great journalists, but at a minimum they should strive to at least be truthful and not do damage to the city in which they live.


I had a couple of replies on Twitter that suggested that our water front area should be preserved on principle, not because of some trumped up historical concern. I understand that viewpoint. I admire other cities that had the foresight to preserve their river front as green space. So why would I advocate a riverfront development in the middle of a relatively unbroken stretch of undeveloped shoreline greenspace? Well, first of all, I'm not advocating for the Sunstone development, but against idiotic newspaper columns. However I would also make the following points:
  1. If this area deserved to be reclaimed as green space, the city should have acted long ago. The time to decide that an area should be a park is not at the 11th hour after a RFPs have been solicited, proposals submitted, and designs approved by a city hall committee. The Upper Fort Garry debacle was damaging, not just because a critical development had been stopped, but because it was stopped at the last minute after the developer had gone through all the hoops, had a contractual agreement to build and made additional compromises to appease opponents. Continual behaviour like this will drive developers away.
  2. There is already a building on-site: the old brick Harbourmaster Building. We can either tear it down, leave it sitting vacant and deteriorating, or re-purpose it as part of a new development. Which option do you think is best?
  3. The Sunstone development will link the greenspace on either side: "The plan also calls for pedestrian walkways to link up with existing riverfront pathways" -fp-
  4. The development of the east Exchange is tenuous. Additional development is required to reach that critical mass that will turn it into a thriving community. A hotel and restaurant will help.
I can't think of a snazzy way to wrap up this blog post, so I'll leave you with a video of Wild Rumpus' Rock the Joint featuring Beardyman:


Patrick said...

Thanks for the post clarifying you're position. I definitely agree with you that it's unfortunate the city hasn't already looked at opportunities along the riverfront for green space.

It's sort of the unfortunate thing about our cities, there's no global vision or foresight. We tackle things as they come and this is a perfect example. Here we could reclaim the waterfront keep it public and have this wonderful connection going from Point Douglas through to the Assiniboine riverwalk.

Fact of the matter is it's not a suitable area for a hotel. But if our city planners and politicians can't zone properly or think ahead, we get stuck with this piecemeal urbanism that makes no coherent sense.

Anonymous said...

This is why The Peg falls behind compared to other cities & their developments.

The Traveler said...

This is just another example of the useless planning and control over the cities development at Main Street

Sean Carney said...

I have this strong urge to create a sarcastic "Save Winnipeg's Parking Lots" website.

"For the low price of daily parking, you can save a Winnipeg parking lot from development and maintain the wide open spaces in our city's core"

Gerry said...

You criticize Sinclair's column yet you use one of the oldest tricks in the writer's arsenal about 3 sentences in. You make a blanket statement that we all agree that the proposed residential development was critical to the vitality of downtown Winnipeg. Really ? We all agree ? I think you’re mixing up your disdain for Gordon Sinclair’s column with your disdain for anyone who dares oppose a critical (?) residential development .

So don't try and insult our intelligence. The rest of your post had some valid points, you don't need to portray people who supported the Upper Fort Garry park as anti-development.

By the way , maybe you can explain how the proposed development at the UFG site was “critical” to Winnipeg’s downtown development. Your comment that , given the reversal at the UFG site , developers may be driven away was worth at least a chuckle.

cherenkov said...

@Gerry: Do you disagree that residential development is critical to the vitality of downtown? Even supporters of UFG agree with that. Some might disagree that this specific development was critical, but the growth of the population base downtown has been slow and there has been almost no apartment construction in many years. The Crystal development would have brought hundreds more people to the area, spending money, walking on the streets, and creating a safer environment.

My disdain for Gordon Sinclair is due to the deception, hyperbole, and outright lies in his columns. He whole intention was to mislead the readers. It was absolutely atrocious journalism that ultimately had a destructive impact on the city.

Finally, not everybody who supported the Friends of UFG are anti-development. In fact most of the people I talked to who supported it were simply mis-informed, as a result of the aforementioned journalism. Almost universally they believed that the apartment building would be built on top of the fort or would somehow destroy the remaining gate.

Gerry said...

I think there is some ambiguity regarding your statement. If you reread the sentence the impression I get is that everyone agrees that residential development at the UFG site is critical to the vitality of the downtown. I think you meant to say that everyone agrees that residential development ( in general) is critical to the vitality of the downtown. The latter is a statement I certainly agree with .
On the other hand UFG is , in my opinion, essential in preserving and celebrating a key part of our history . It was the hot spot in the events of 1869-70. An important enough site to merit it's own "area" . It would seem to me that there are other areas close by that would have had the same positive effect you mention.
Anyways I didn't want to rant on about why UFG needs to be preserved. I just thought you turned a criticism of Gordon Sinclair's writing into a criticism of anyone who dares oppose development.

cherenkov said...

I agree that UFG 'area' deserves some enhancement, but that was part of Crystal Development's plans. They made a compromise to stay off the footprint of the fort and develop the fort area into a park and interpretive centre, but apparently that wasn't good enough for some people.

It wasn't necessary to kill the apartment to honour the history of the area. In fact, Crystal's original concept is probably more in-keeping with the heritage of UFG than the holographic wall that the Friends came up with.

Anonymous said...

There's another parking lot a bit up the road at Waterfront and George Avenue that was the site of Fort Douglas which the locals burned to the ground in the early 1800s.
In this case the City built Waterfront Drive right through its footprint.
Gordo should do more research and get the City to rip up the road and preserve this historical site too.

cherenkov said...

Can you imagine if Gord lived somewhere that had more than 200 years of history?

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