BU hires group behind U of W transformation to lead downtown development consultations

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The non-profit organization behind the University of Winnipeg’s multi-year transformation from a traditional ivory tower into a sprawling campus of housing, academic buildings and fitness amenities will bring its expertise to Brandon.

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This article was published 15/07/2017 (1901 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The non-profit organization behind the University of Winnipeg’s multi-year transformation from a traditional ivory tower into a sprawling campus of housing, academic buildings and fitness amenities will bring its expertise to Brandon.

Brandon University announced Friday it has hired the University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corp. and its related organization, UWCRC 2.0, to lead the public consultation process for its own transformation of nearly 70,000 square feet of downtown real estate. The organization will use community advice to inform its conceptual plan for what the seven parcels of land will become.

“Our university was a building, two buildings in a way, and we basically built a campus,” UWCRC managing director Sherman Kreiner said of what the University of Winnipeg looked like in the early 2000s before a boom in student enrolment reimagined its size and scope.

Submitted An image supplied by Brandon University shows a mixed-use and residential development proposed for the city's downtown.

“We tried to make it a place where community was welcome, where families that didn’t have a history of going to university … would see it as their place.”

To that end, the UWCRC, a separately incorporated entity from the U of W, built a daycare where one-quarter of the slots are reserved for community, an indoor soccer facility where one-third of the time is devoted to non-university purposes and a facility where space is set aside for indigenous students to hold smudging ceremonies, Kreiner explained.

The value of the U of W development now exceeds $200 million.

“Our goal was to create a village in the community. To that extent, we didn’t just say, ‘Here’s our boundaries and we’re going to put walls around the boundary.’ This is all going to be integrated, it’s going to be part of the community.”

Impressed, officials at Brandon University will use the insights of UWCRC for their own unique approach to downtown redevelopment.

Interim BU president Steve Robinson said one Winnipeg project he liked is a residence where a cross-section of people from different cultural, economic and social backgrounds became neighbours.

“That’s the sort of thing we want,” he said. “We don’t want to create an enclave of Brandon University downtown, where inside this wall is BU stuff and outside is Brandon stuff. We want what we’re building to be of direct value to the community and that means having availability there for people to live.”

Robinson said BU isn’t planning to follow the exact steps UWCRC followed in downtown Winnipeg, but use the group’s expertise, and the insights of community residents, to develop a Brandon-specific plan. 

In BU’s case, the university has expressed interest in “new-concept student residences” downtown, as well as lodgings for seniors. The residential component will be coupled with academic spaces as well as possible commercial development.

In February, BU announced it would pursue a major downtown development along Princess Avenue, between Ninth and 10th streets. BU purchased two city-owned properties (129 11th St. and 156 Ninth St.) for $1 each, on top of buying the former Strand Theatre late last year, also for a loonie. Two Renaissance Brandon parcels of land will also become BU property once the university requires the land. Robinson said they’re also “very close” to acquiring two parcels south of the Strand Theatre from a private owner.

BU’s plans have been described as one of the city’s most significant developments in decades.

In an interview with The Brandon Sun in February, now-outgoing BU president Gervan Fearon credited the University of Winnipeg and Ryerson University in Toronto as post-secondary institutions playing vital roles in the downtown revitalizations of their respective cities — successes he wanted to emulate.

Kreiner believes it’s important for universities and colleges to become involved in their greater communities by being a good citizen. He added there’s usually a benefit to universities themselves through increased enrolment, when people of diverse backgrounds realize they’re welcomed at places of higher learning.

He said he looks forward to starting meaningful consultation efforts, beginning in September, with the public.

Kreiner shared the most discussion they’ve had with the university concerned mixed housing. There was strong interest for residences in the town hall sessions held earlier this year, among BU community members.

Part of UWCRC’s mandate in Brandon will be to consider a governance structure for the downtown development that engages various community constituencies in some capacity, he added.

In the meantime, members of the public are invited to offer their feedback by email at downtown@brandonu.ca and through the feedback form at brandonu.ca/downtown.

» ifroese@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @ianfroese

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