The ongoing saga of Upper Fort Garry dragged on into it’s 10th year this week as the Friends of Upper Fort Garry pushed for an extension on their use of a non-compliant parking lot.
You may recall that 2 years ago The Friends received special permission to operate a gravel parking lot adjacent to the Upper Fort Garry park in order to help fund the completion of the park. The lot generated less than half the income anticipated, but with the help of a $2-million sponsorship from Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corp, the final component of the park — a large interpretive wall — was completed last year.
At the time, the Councillor for the area, Jenny Gerbasi, reportedly expressed concerns that the parking lot wouldn’t be so “temporary”. Sure enough, here we are — the permit expired over 3 months ago, their request to extend it was rejected, and they are appealing the decision. This news comes 2 days after the same Councillor, Gerbasi, called for a crackdown on “illegal” parking lots just like this.
With the park being completed the original justification no longer applies, but this time The Friends are arguing that the revenue from the illegal lot is needed to “maintain the park until they build an interpretive centre and commercial complex on the surface lot”, as though the $15-million interpretive centre will not only be self sufficient but will somehow fund the park maintenance as well.
Let’s get something straight: The Friends are not going to be able to raise $15-million or anything close to it. There is donor-fatigue in Winnipeg in the wake of the relentless fundraising campaign for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, and there are more appealing causes for Winnipeg’s wealthy benefactors to support like the Diversity Gardens at Assiniboine Park. Millions of dollars from the government and government-funded agencies were required to built the Upper Fort Garry park that we have now, and this new project (if it stays on budget) is $2-million pricier yet.
Let’s get something else straight: The Friends do not need the parking lot to fund maintenance of the park. As a designated provincial park, management of the park is a provincial responsibility; and if the parking lot is torn up this winter as they suggest it may be “if the project is conducted in phases”, minimal income will be generated from it any how.
This is the game plan:
Phase I – dig a hole in the ground and pound a few piles in the clay.
Phase II – get $14.9-million from the government to finish the project
All they need to do is get construction started, and the city will be committed to the project. Rather than having the eyesore of a pitifully incomplete building surrounded by a chain-link fence, the City of Winnipeg will funnel critical money away from other priorities to complete the project. At least this is what The Friends hope and expect. Other levels of government will be lobbied to chip in, but one way or another, tax payers will be on the hook for the vast majority of the cost.
The other possibility, if permission to operate the parking lot is extended, is that the Friends build nothing and simply continue to line their pockets with a gravel lot, like any of the other lazy and inconsiderate property-owners that Gerbasi was targeting the other day, while the opportunity cost of not doing something more productive with the property continues to pile up.
You may argue that the interpretive centre is needed and worth every penny of the $15-million price tag. Fine … let’s have that discussion. When mayor Brian Bowman, and Councillor Gerbasi, and all the other Councillors debate extending the parking lot permit, they need to be prepared to make a $15-million commitment. They need to be prepared to kill Promenade Taché, or delay transit improvements, or reduce funding for road repairs if they decide to approve the parking lot.
It will be a tough argument to make. Aside from the Friends of Upper Fort Garry themselves, there is little enthusiasm for the proposal. The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Heritage Wall (yes, that is actually what it is called) already provides an interpretive element, and the 25,000 sq ft of leaseable conference space in the planned building is not needed with a growing supply of conference space in privately owned hotels and the newly expanded Convention Centre.
In this blogger’s opinion, the appeal to renew the parking lot permit should be quickly and firmly rejected. The site should be reclaimed by the city and proposals to develop the lot in a way that adds vitality and property tax revenue to the city should be solicited. Only then will the saga of Upper Fort Garry finally be over.
For more background on this project and why it is so aggravating, see my last post on this topic The Upper Fort Garry adventure continues.