The good, the bad and the ugly

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Downtown revitalization is an ongoing priority — and challenge — for the City of Brandon. There have been many recent successes, including the opening of Benny’s Restaurant, One & Only Design Studio and plans for eight new apartment suites at Prairie Lofts, which point to downtown optimism and renewal.

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This article was published 26/11/2016 (2193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Downtown revitalization is an ongoing priority — and challenge — for the City of Brandon. There have been many recent successes, including the opening of Benny’s Restaurant, One & Only Design Studio and plans for eight new apartment suites at Prairie Lofts, which point to downtown optimism and renewal.

Unfortunately, there are still areas and highly visible properties in need of attention, including the vacant lot at Ninth Street and Princess Avenue. Major redevelopment projects once planned for the Strand Theatre and McKenzie Seeds have been halted, The Town Centre remains somewhat empty, while there are still unsightly vacant storefronts in key downtown blocks.

The Brandon Sun is taking a look at the current status of the city’s historic neighbourhood: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun The Strand Theatre on 10th Street in Brandon sits vacant and undeveloped.

The Good

With 12-foot ceilings, exposed ductwork and an open-concept living space, Prairie Loft apartments in downtown Brandon will bring in modern elements while paying homage to the past.

The transformation of the upper storeys at the historic 829 and 833 Rosser Ave. is well underway. Eight new apartment suites are expected to be ready for tenants by next spring.

“They’re loft-style apartments, reminiscent of what you’d typically find in bigger cities,” said property owner Robyn Sneath. “We’ve tried, where possible, to keep some of the elements that remind you that you’re not just living in an other apartment in the suburbs but you’re living in this beautiful heritage building.”

Phase 1 of the project, which is four suites above Ten Thousand Villages, will be ready by March, with Phase 2 to come in the following months. There will be two two-bedroom apartments, five one-bedroom suites and one one-bedroom plus den.

When it comes to downtown revitalization, building a critical mass of residents is essential. As Sneath says, Prairie Loft apartments will be one small step toward that goal.

“We feel very optimistic about downtown and the direction it’s heading,” she said. “I feel there is a lot of positive momentum right now and … really good people in key positions who are keen to see things happen.”

Robyn and her husband, Dr. Jason Sneath, have been instrumental in recent downtown renewal. The couple moved to Brandon nearly three years ago. In that time, they opened Skin Clinics and Fraser Sneath coffee after renovating another historic building on Rosser Avenue.

Both originally from Winnipeg, the Sneaths have lived all over the world — Vancouver, Toronto, Boston, England and Germany — and in Robyn’s words have “fallen in love” with heritage spaces. They were familiar with Brandon growing up, and visited Jason’s grandparents here.

“We kind of knew of the downtown, and were always charmed by it,” she said. They decided to plant some roots in Brandon, and were drawn to the “stunning heritage buildings” downtown.

Renovating the Prairie Loft buildings, which date back to 1905, is not without its challenges. Fire codes have changed quite a bit over the past century, plus they were faced with some additional structural repairs.

The Sneaths started their own construction company for the Prairie Lofts project, which has allowed them to have fun with designing the lofts and recruiting a crew to bring it to life. They worked with another downtown business, the Kitchen Gallery, to build high-end kitchens in the suites. The aim is to attract urban professionals and offer the suites at market rent.

Historic touches include high baseboards, five-panel doors, planked floors as well as reclaimed wood shelves. Potential tenants can contact katie@skinclinics.ca for more information.

Another new addition to the downtown area is One & Only Design Studio and O&O Coffee, located on the 100 block of 10th Street.

Owners Jenny Kang and her husband Patrick Kim decided to open in downtown Brandon because of to the pedestrian-friendly nature of the area.

“It’s more accessible for the public, and everything is in walking distance,” Kang said. “We are glad we are downtown.”

Kim supplies hotels with furniture, decor, lighting, cabinets, tiles and countertops. They wanted to open a space to showcase his products and samples, as well as offer it for retail shoppers. The store offers wall art, coffee and side tables, sofas, accent chairs, lighting fixtures and much more.

Tim Smith/The Brandon Sun Brandon University student Chantel Lim studies for a genetics exam as part of her biology major at O&O Coffee in the newly opened One & Only Design Studio on 10th Street in Brandon.

They spent a lot of time and effort renovating the aging building, and are so pleased with the result.

“It’s a good spot and a good space for his business,” Kang said, adding they both love coffee so a small café was a natural fit.

Across the street is another newer addition to downtown — Pirouette Active Wear. The attractive new storefronts and redeveloped buildings are exactly what Renaissance Brandon wants to see.

“The building in terms of exterior transformation, it’s significant,” said Elisabeth Saftiuk, executive director of Renaissance Brandon. “It’s very esthetically pleasing, it’s pedestrian oriented … and it’s very inviting.”

Ben Hernandez, formerly of Remington’s Seafood and Steakhouse, recently took over the former Green Olive restaurant, and reopened as Benny’s Restaurant at 612 Rosser Ave.

“It kind of brings a bit of what was at Remington’s … to a new space completely, it’s really positive for downtown,” Saftiuk said.

The Bad

There had been much excitement a few years ago about a plan to redevelop the historic McKenzie Seeds building into 85 residential units.

B.C.-based Resland Development Group halted the project last year, unfortunately, at the time saying it did not “sufficiently align with the corporation’s business strategy or development expertise.”

There were also high hopes for the former Strand Theatre, built in 1917 and closed in 2005. The Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society backed a fundraising campaign dubbed Light Up the Stage, but it failed to get off the ground. The goal was to raise funds to redevelop the historic downtown theatre into a multi-use community performance and arts centre.

When contacted this week, Brian McIntosh of Landmark Cinemas, the building owner, stated there are “no updates on the Strand Theatre at this time.”

The prime real estate at the corner of Ninth Street and Princess Avenue remains vacant, and as of this week there is nothing new to report. It is the former site of the Brandon Inn and Brandon Real Estate Board, owned by the city, and a portion of the lot by Renaissance Brandon.

“We’re working with the City of Brandon … to ensure that the appropriate development occurs on that site,” Saftiuk said.

The Ugly

There are still several vacant storefronts downtown, plus what has been called an eyesore at Seventh Street and Rosser Avenue. The small building at 701 Rosser Ave. was formerly the Chicken Corner restaurant. In 2012, it was sold to Huangpu Assiniboine Holdings Ltd. and major renovations began, including the removal of the entire second storey.

At that time, the plan was to establish a new restaurant with a rooftop patio. But the project came to a halt and the property changed hands a few years ago. The new owner, Ron Fay of RAF Engineering, went through the design process with the planning department, and last year constructed a second floor at the property.

According to Greg Merke, the city’s building safety manager, Fay is compliant with the building bylaw and has an active building permit.

Colin Corneau/The Brandon Sun Robyn Sneath stands by one of the downtown heritage buildings she and her husband Jason are redeveloping on Rosser Avenue.

“I do know things haven’t been going as smooth as maybe they could for him,” Merke said. “The building bylaw has some room in there for this … He made very good progress at the start, but I do know he’s run into a bit of a roadblock.”

Fay said work is continuing, but it has just been a bit slower than expected.

“I’m doing one step at a time rather than trying to shotgun it,” he said.

The plan for the building now is to house his engineering firm, as well as at least one residential suite on the second floor.

“I’ve got all the structure in the building done,” he said. “I want to finish off the roof to make it water tight before I start putting windows … hopefully that’s happening this week.”

Downtown Optimism

While there have been setbacks, anyone looking at the activity downtown in recent years will see a lot of positive additions. Renaissance Brandon has assisted several projects through its redevelopment grant, including the transformation of the former fire hall on Princess Avenue into the popular Prairie Firehouse, plus Fraser Sneath Coffee and Skin Clinics on Rosser.

“It kind of feels like there’s an appetite right now for people to see things happen and to see positive development down there, and so it’s been very exciting for us to get to play kind of a central role in helping to facilitate that revitalization,” Sneath said.

Through a rent abatement program, Renaissance Brandon has also assisted Tana Ethiopian Restaurant, Making Roots Montessori Centre, Hispano Bakery and Tour Indoor Cycling. The program provides a forgivable loan to business owners. The value of rent assistance is based on the length of the lease agreement, and landlords must match Renaissance Brandon’s contribution through a grace period.

Eleven applications have come in to Renaissance Brandon for its new Downtown Facade and Storefront Improvement Program, proposing significant exterior renovations. Funded through the Province of Manitoba, the program will provide matching funds up to $15,000.

“We have seen many small successes,” Saftiuk said. “There hasn’t been one huge project that’s been transformational, but a lot of these smaller projects are, in their own right, transformational, and one at a time I think we’re seeing vast improvement in downtown.”

» jaustin@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @jillianaustin

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