• phone: (204)977-2142
  • fax: (204)257-2331
  • mobile: (204)799-9330

You must have Adobe Flash installed

Blog by Ursula Thiessen

<< back to article list

Warehouse makeover a split decision

When it comes to developing heritage buildings in the Exchange District, perhaps less is more.

Less space translates into less cost, producing many more potential players.

That's what the owners of the Bathgate Block at

Princess Street
Alexander Avenue
, in the city's Chinatown district, have discovered.

Retrofitting the three-storey, 18,000 square foot, 125-year-old warehouse into a condo development, as they once planned, was financially risky. At today's prices, it would have required a $3 million investment, which lending institutions tend to shy away from in the Exchange.

"The building was too small for big developers and too big for small developers," said Brian Pearson, an intern architect and one of the owners.

Last year, the group tested the market, putting the building they have owned for four years on sale for $300,000. But they had no luck getting a deal done.

"I had it for sale for quite some time," said RE/MAX Performance agent Bill Thiessen. "I could have sold it every day for many days."

But once the prospective buyers talked to their lenders about their development plans, the deals went sour.

So the owners, which also include an architect, a developer and a mechanical engineer, got creative.

At Pearson's suggestion, they decided to divide the building into three three-storey units with three separate deeds.

The process took four months and cost about $70,000. It involved architects, structural engineers, surveyors, masons, carpenters and meetings with city planners. It meant creating two more building entrances and restoring and upgrading the firewalls that originally divided the building's three bays. The firewalls represent the boundaries of the three units.

Creating three buildings out of one is already paying off. The prime unit, which has windows along

Alexander Avenue
as well as on
Princess Street
, has sold for $151,000. The other two units will be listed in the coming days for $119,000 each.

"We think we may sell the other two in bidding wars, which is not a norm for the downtown," Thiessen said.

Each of the units is raw warehouse space, and the new owners will have to apply for their own building permits to develop them.

Zoning in the Exchange allows would-be buyers a wide range of uses for the property -- virtually everything except heavy industrial use.

"They could live on the top floor and work on the bottom. It creates all kinds of possibilities," Thiessen said.

He sees potential in such building splits as a way to make development projects in the Exchange affordable for many more people.

A lot of people would love to invest downtown, but they don't have the millions of dollars it takes to do it, he said. Condo projects can take three years before a developer gets paid back, Thiessen said.

"And the Qualicos and the Ladcos or the Randall Homes ... typically wouldn't look at a retrofit in downtown Winnipeg ," he said. "They'd be more interested in something far more larger-scale and reliable."

But by subidividing buildings, more potential players can be brought in, he said.

"I think it's potentially an absolute godsend."

However, a city planner said that while subdividing the building on Princess was doable, the process is unlikely to transform the way in which Exchange District buildings are redeveloped.

"It makes sense in this building simply because it's practical to divide it that way," said Kurtis Kowalke, who specializes in the downtown. "But if you had a larger complex, it would be a lot more difficult to imagine how to divide it up," he said.

If the building were six storeys tall, it would be impractical to subdivide and creating separate deeds on a floor-by-floor basis is also problematic.

"You can't create a stratified title like that unless you develop a condo, in which case you would probably have a common element. Otherwise, how would you get to that top level?" he said.


Bathgate Block

Located at 242, 244 and

246 Princess St.
Alexander Avenue

Designed by the architectural firm Barber and Barber, whose work included the old city hall and the block of buildings that now make up the façade of Red River College 's

Princess Street

Construction began in 1882 and was completed in 1883.

A City of Winnipeg historical buildings committee publication (available at http://www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/historic/historic_conservlist.stm#p) describes it as "a good example of the Romanesque Revival style that became popular in warehouse districts throughout North America in the 1880s."

Features include 15-foot ceilings on the main floor and 12-foot ceilings on the second and third floors. Windows facing

Princess Street
are three feet wide and 10 feet tall.

Each of the three buildings that make up the block contains 6,000 square feet of raw space over three floors.

Zoning rules in the area permit residential, retail, office, commercial, cultural and entertainment and some light industrial uses.