Winnipeg's French Quarter is set to experience a renaissance.
Provencher Boulevard, a neglected section of the Riel District, will be given new life with the development of cafés, shopping plazas, restaurants, offices, condos and apartments.
Entreprises Riel, a non-profit organization for francophone economic, community and tourism development in the district (encompassing St. Boniface, St. Vital and St. Norbert), is spearheading the area's reincarnation with the construction of Édifice Fontaine.
The $4-million project on the Tache-Langevin stretch includes demolition of existing buildings and construction of a four-storey complex designed by Number Ten Architectural. The new complex will feature cafés and shopping plazas on the main floor and offices with a view on the upper three.
|Illustration courtesy of Number 10 Architectural Group|
|Artist's rendition of Édifice Fontaine, part of the transfiguration planned for Winnipeg's Provencher Boulevard.|
The existing buildings to be torn down are home to businesses Fontaine Electric, Quest Musique and Ecofibre.
Fontaine Electric and Quest will relocate, but Ecofibre will likely be accommodated in the new building, which is expected to be completed by next fall.
"The foot traffic generated by the project will be good for business," says Marc Normandeau, president of French Quarter BIZ, an association focused on improving the city's francophone business zone.
Édifice Fontaine is only the beginning for the area, says Normand Gousseau, director of economic development for Entreprises Riel. "There hasn't been much infrastructural investment in the area, but we need to enhance its population density to support higher business volumes, so several housing projects are (also) in the offing."
Place Joseph Royale, named after the University of Manitoba's first chancellor, is scheduled to begin construction in January.
That seven-storey building will feature boutiques and storefronts on the main floor, offices on the second, and five stories of condominiums on the top.
500 Tache, a 79-unit condo complex in the area, is another project that will be completed next fall, and Gousseau says many of its units have already been booked.
Entreprises Riel has also bought another St. Boniface property on which it plans two buildings - one with 59 condos, and the other with 64 apartments. Construction of the condo building is slated to commence in the spring.
Gousseau says the joint focus on residential development as well as commercial has already proven a success. "The strategy is already working, since business, declining in the recent past, is now on the upswing. There have to be more consumers for the little shops and restaurants to thrive."
Dave Bockstael of Bockstael Construction, one of the Édifice Fontaine's partners, says the 27,000-sq.-ft. construction is bound to stimulate business in the French Quarter by bringing professionals and businesspeople back to the area. Provencher Boulevard is not far from the Forks and downtown, and he suggests many people are moving back to the area because of all the real estate activity taking place.
Although construction is in high gear now, the St. Boniface community has not always embraced the idea of new development in the area.
Change was resisted in the past, explains Gousseau, but there has been an attitudinal shift in the community. People realize change is needed for better prospects now, he says. "There's a pro-development attitude we haven't seen in 40 years."
Anne-Marie Thibert-Guénette, president of the Chambre de commerce francophone de Saint-Boniface, says: "In general, any commercial development on the boulevard that maximizes the mix and variety of business is welcome. It is good to see that private enterprise recognizes the opportunities available in St. Boniface and is willing to invest in its growth and development."
Though she regrets the loss of some unique retailers, Thibert-Guénette is happy to hear others are planning to relocate on the boulevard.
Thibert-Guénette's one concern is the threat of losing the francophone culture in the area, considering the trend of recent Winnipeg development that features modern designs. Some examples are the unique design aspects of downtown's Millenium Library, the cutting-edge green design of the new Manitoba Hydro headquarters downtown, and the polished look of the new airport terminal plans.
"It would be nice if the building design (for this area) was less modern and more in keeping with principles established for the boulevard to reflect a 'French Quarter' flavour," she says. "We hope to see the new businesses incorporate bilingual signage and ensure bilingual services."
But Thibert-Guénette doesn't let her concern dampen her enthusiasm for the project.
"We appreciate the efforts being made by Entreprises Riel and other economic development agencies in the area, and trust that continued efforts will be made to work with residents, businesses, and local organizations to create win-win plans for all stakeholders," she concludes.
(Ashoke Dasgupta can be reached at email@example.com)