For the past 17 years, the Union Bank Tower at the corner of Main Street and William Avenue sat vacant because the cost of renovating the 104-year-old heritage building proved prohibitive to developers. Now, the redevelopment of the national historic site is moving forward because architects and engineers figured out they could save an old office tower by building a brand-new low-rise structure alongside it.
On Thursday, officials from Red River College and all three levels of government held a ceremony to mark the beginning of a two-year heritage-restoration and construction project that will see the tower and two adjoining buildings become the new home for the college’s hospitality and culinary programs, student residences and three restaurants with two outdoor seating areas.
Financially, the $27-million project is moving forward with the help of funding from Ottawa, Manitoba, Winnipeg, downtown development agency CentreVenture, Paterson GlobalFoods, the Winnipeg Foundation and the college itself.
But from a technical standpoint, the construction of a new annex on the west side of the building and the renovation of a smaller building on the south side are what will make the project possible, as the steel-frame “tower” — considered the oldest “skyscraper” in Western Canada — could not house the heating and cooling systems necessary for teaching classrooms, kitchens and restaurants on its own.