Carlton Inn finds itself on CentreVenture buyout chopping block

Critics remain concerned about lack of consideration for low-income residents

Kaitlyn Emslie Farrell

As CentreVenture continues to negotiate the terms of its pending purchase of the Carlton Inn, critics worry side effects of the developer’s recent downtown hotel acquisitions are not being figured into its broader strategy.

On Dec. 12, less than a month after CentreVenture announced its purchase of the St. Regis Hotel on Smith Street, city councillors approved the organization a $6.6-million loan guarantee to buy out the Carlton Inn, which also houses a restaurant and lounge.

Although there has been speculation the property will become the site of a new hotel, CentreVenture has not yet announced its official plans for redevelopment.

Phil Cyrenne, chair of the University of Winnipeg’s economics department, says legislators need to reconsider the downtown developer’s mandate.

“The problem is a lot of these hotels are also used as housing for people with low incomes and addictions,” said Cyrenne. “If you close them down, then those people just get displaced to somewhere else.

“CentreVenture is doing what it thinks it should be doing, but the city and province need to integrate (CentreVenture’s) mandate with some sort of low-income housing strategy in the downtown area.”

According to CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan, who said both the Carlton Inn and St. Regis Hotel are commonly used for medium to long-term medical stays by visitors from Northern Manitoba, the displacement described by Cyrenne poses no major issue.

“There are sufficient spaces in the other hotels nearby to handle the (two) losses,” he said.

McGowan also noted that CentreVenture has no plans to buy up and redevelop additional businesses in the immediate future.

“We’re quite content at this time to settle with the Carlton and St. Regis as the two properties which most affect development in the SHED (Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District),” he said.

CentreVenture intends to purchase the three-story, 108-room hotel primarily because of its location across from the Winnipeg Convention Centre, which is set to undergo a massive $180-million expansion planned for completion in 2015, McGowan said.

Details regarding the final purchase price and when the property will officially change hands are still being worked out with the hotel’s owners, he added.

In 2009, McGowan publicly called for the redevelopment of another licensed inn, the Woodbine Hotel, calling the well-known Main Street watering hole a “sore spot” in the Exchange District neighbourhood after a violent incident.

According to Woodbine owner Don Matthews, however, it seems the developer has no intentions of buying up the property in the near future.

“I know they’ve been kicking tires, but otherwise no, I haven’t been approached with any offers from them,” he said.

The recent wave of small downtown hotel buy ups doesn’t have Matthews worried - yet.

“They’re going to do what they’re going to do,” he said. “I’ll just have to adapt to the environment I’m in.”

As for reaping the benefits of a shrinking pool of relatively inexpensive downtown hotel bars - which will begin when the St. Regis Embassy Lounge closes its doors for good at the end of this month - Matthews says he expects a modest influx of patrons.

“I assume that as each (bar) closes there will be a trickle-down effect,” he said.

“People will just go to the next place, and then the next.”

Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt was the only councillor to oppose the guarantee.

Published in Volume 67, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 10, 2013)

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