Casual commentary about political, cultural and economic issues with a particular interest on the city of Winnipeg by John Dobbin
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Sport for Life Qualico Training Center
It is worth noting that the gigantic new sports facility built in downtown Winnipeg and just completed this week has taken years to get done, caused controversy every step of the way, cost millions and will be probably be a legacy facility in much the same way as the Pan Am Pool, Pan Am Stadium and Shaw Park are today.
In 2010, the Manitoba Sport Federation had no choice but to move from its Main Street offices when Wawanesa Insurance announced that they needed the space for their expanding downtown head office. The MSF dreamed of a high performance center but the cost of land and the desire to stay central made them look away from a high profile street such as where they were. To that end, they looked at the Exchange district to a building abandoned in 2008 with the demise of the garment industry.
At 145 Pacific Avenue, two older buildings were acquired and the better preserved building constructed in 1913 was renovated to serve as the new Sport for Life Centre. The 84,000 building housed a sports medicine component, some elite training, sports offices plus the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. This was to be phase one with phase two to come when money was raised.
Alas the next door building was structurally unsound so the city granted a demolition so long as it didn't become a surface parking lot. This was the common thing for property owners to ask for: demolition and then a surface lot forever. After the sport building went up, it came as no surprise to anyone that the flattened area beside became a parking lot.
City Hall eventually called Sport for Life on this and said if they were going to use the site next door for a parking lot that they should not be exempt the landscaping required by law. The centre wailed at the rules that had been bent for them for five years and said they were just about to start phase 2 and should not have to do work that would be bulldozed later.
Unlike other developments that promised to get work under way and didn't, Sport for Life began construction two years ago and took this long to get done. The 124,000 square foot addition was so large that it spanned across Martha Street towards the Ukrainian cultural center. Combined with street and sidewalk improvements in the Exchange area, the size and the scope of the project is quite awesome.
The $23 million dollar building leveraged a need for facilities for the upcoming Canada Summer Games and now contains three full basketball courts, a three lane track, a public gym, 88 underground parking spots, aerobics and high performance training rooms. All three levels of government contributed to the centre as well as private donors.
The Canada Summer Games will see both basketball and volleyball played there. However, as a legacy facility of the games, it will be years of trained athletes who will benefit from the 200,000 square foot combined space of a building.
Winnipeggers are right to hold doubts about promises made on projects. We often see lengthy delays, cancellations or requests for ever greater amounts of public money to see things get completed. We see grabs made for surface lots and then shrugs of shoulders as years go by as people squat on the land. Seems always easier to knock down a building rather than finding a surface lot to use.
There are always complaints about lack of parking or traffic but in the case of the Qualico Training Centre, it probably gained more more spots from the renovation. As far as traffic goes, we need better ways of getting people to and from places they need to go so that it is convenient and affordable. That is achieved either by having amenities close by or have transportation systems that move a lot of people.
The Sport for Life centre will make it easier for people to not have to head down to the University of Manitoba every day. More bus routes head downtown from every direction of the city and this should ease travel down Pembina.
It took 12 years to get this project done and sometimes it looked like it was going to fall short and that the city was once again going to end up having knocked a building down and accomplished nothing. In this case, something special happened and should be producing great things for years to come.