Meet Merchants Corner

The Merchants Hotel may be converted into education space, student housing and commercial retail

With an offer to purchase the infamous Merchants Hotel in the North End, the group behind the deal is still considering what should become of the building. 

The offer comes from a community-based coalition led by the University of Winnipeg’s Community Renewal Corporation and various North End community agencies.

At the moment, plans for the space’s use are still tentative. However, Jeff Palmer, of the University of Winnipeg’s community renewal group, was able to discuss ideas under consideration.

“Everyone is envisioning a mixed-use development,” he said. “There will be commercial uses, educational uses and housing. The specifics will unfold over the next couple of months.”

Jim Silver, director of Urban and Inner City Studies at U of W, said the university’s interest in the project is related to the future of his department, which is situated on Selkirk Avenue.

“We hope the new building that goes in the space will be our future home,” he said.

Robert Neufeld, executive director of North End Renewal Corp., believes the space is aptly situated for the study program.

“It makes sense to have education for the inner city in the inner city,” he said.

However, Silver emphasizes the purchased space, which will be titled Merchants Corner, is large enough to encompass many usages.

“There are six adjoining lots, not just the hotel is being purchased,” he said. “It’s a big space.”

Four of the adjoining lots are currently used for parking behind the hotel, another sits beside the hotel restaurant and another beside the hotel itself, Silver added.

“Of the first four lots, there should be some student housing, but this is only tentative,” he said.

Campus life can sometimes be the most daunting part of attending university. This is why community-centered education is important, adds Silver.

“If you come from a family in which no one before has gone to university, a campus can be an intimidating place,” he said. “Here, we are not trying to attract students to a big campus, we are going to bring education to them.”

Silver believes when the criminal activity associated with the hotel is gone, the purchase will encourage further development in the area.

“Crime has been a pain in the neck for the neighborhood and for new developments in the area,” he said. “We are hoping that, with the Merchants gone, we will be able to attract some new development.”

Palmer notes that the hotel’s removal is more likely to displace crime than remove it.

“It won’t eliminate all the crime,” he said. “It will help revitalize the neighbourhood by removing illegal activity that took place there (the Merchants hotel).”
Neufeld agrees.

“There won’t be the same crime concentration on Selkirk Avenue but we still need a holistic approach to poverty,” he said. “Poverty is still there but renewing Selkirk Avenue and investing in the inner city ... will improve the city as a whole.”

Other organizations involved in the deal include the Urban Circle Training Centre Inc., Andrew Street Family Centre, Ma Mawi, Ndinawe and the North End Community Renewal Corporation.

Published in Volume 66, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 5, 2011)

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