It’s hard to imagine a more prime piece of Winnipeg real estate — dozens of acres of land dotted with big trees, bordered on one side by a long, gentle bend in the Red River and tucked next to a campus populated by enough daytime inhabitants to be considered a city.
It has sat fallow for nearly a decade, but now, a one-time golf course adjacent to the University of Manitoba is poised to become one of the largest infill developments of its kind in Winnipeg.
The university purchased the Southwood Golf and Country Club in January 2008, and officially took possession of the 120-acre property in 2011.
Greg Rogers doesn’t have to oversell his enthusiasm for the raw material at his disposal — the veteran developer believes he has a winner piece of property and intends to make it shine.
“This is a developer’s dream, to be honest,” he told CBC News on a quick tour of the property. There’s “underserved” demand from people who are “hungry for better places to live that are walkable to work and to school,” he says.
As the CEO of UM Properties — a separate entity from the university with its own board of directors — Rogers is in the midst of a project that will add 10,000 or more housing units to the area over its four-decade life span.
UM Properties was formed to act on the development, following a series of consultations with the community and design ideas solicited from planning and architectural firms.
It will develop the land on behalf of the university, allowing private companies to build the housing and commercial outlets on the property.
The plan, now at the land-use approval stage with the City of Winnipeg, would see a rolling series of developments over the next 40 years, starting at the edge of the U of M’s property along Sifton Road.
Rogers says the initial phase will include multi-family apartment and condominium towers, up to 25-storeys high, with commercial space on the main floors, along with restaurants, small-scale grocery stores, banking and other services.
As the development expands across the property toward the existing residential neighbourhood, the buildings will get shorter — probably no taller than a couple of storeys in height — but that phase likely won’t arrive for many years.
There are plans for a kilometre-long parkway along the Red River, connected to other trails through the property, and linking everything to the U of M campus.
The connection to the river is another element a developer dreams of, and adds to Rogers’s enthusiasm.
“Waterfront, baby! Yeah, it’s great. Waterfront is a key element of any really successful community,” he says, smiling.
“It’s typically something that’s put in people’s backyard and becomes exclusive to the property owner. The intention here is that it’s there for the community to share.”
Rogers ticks off highlights from the plan, and how they’ll feed into improving the university campus.
“You’re going to see ponds storing storm water that are naturalized to create more park space. You’re going to see active transportation routes for bicycles, for skateboarders, for people skating in the wintertime.”
The project, Rogers says, will pay close attention to the Indigenous community that is part of the U of M — the plan includes a new home of the U of M-based National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
It will also look to sustainability and its impact on surrounding residential communities, he said.
Long overdue, says councillor
“It’s time we see something happening on the land,” says city Coun. Janice Lukes, looking at the massive investment made in the rapid transit line between the U of M and the downtown.
“There’s a $500-million transit stop right on your door,” said the Waverley West councillor. “[The property] has been empty for a decade, and the demand is still there for housing.”
Lukes has fought an ongoing battle against illegal rooming houses in the neighbourhood around the campus.
Rogers calculates the total economic value of the project over four decades to reach approximately $3 billion, and generate perhaps $200 million for the U of M.
“All the universities in Canada and globally are looking to leverage the demand they’re creating for real estate and monetize their land holdings that aren’t needed for academic purposes,” Rogers said. He points to Simon Fraser, UBC, and the University of Calgary as post-secondary institutions deep into similar developments.
The first phase of the project could see shovels in the ground by 2022, but Rogers is hopeful things will move more rapidly.
“If we get this set up right, do it well, it will probably go faster. I’m hoping it will go faster than we’ve presently forecast.”
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