The Exchange side of Lombard is like a movie set except in Winnipeg’s case, the facade is not a few feet deep. Each building on the north side has depth, character and history. And now in the old Great-West Life headquarters, they have a Salisbury House.
It’s tough with the Richardson building. It is an iconic building started in 1967 and completed in 1969. The site where it stands now was to host the original Richardson family building but the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed nixed that. For 40 years Winnipeg’s famous corner was a surface parking lot and and gas station covered with billboards.
The building stands 34 storeys of which ten floors house various Richardson family entities. The Fairmont Hotel (formerly Winnipeg Inn/Westin/Lombard) and 161 Portage which used to be the Bank of Canada building but is now called Tetratech Building as they occupy two of the eight floors are all Richardson owned as well as the parkade and the Richardson Concourse underneath.
By 1970, the corner was transformed and indicated just how powerful the family was in Manitoba and in Canada. This will now continue with the Richardson Innovation Center being presently built on a surface lot at Lombard and Westbrook near the Nutty Club building.
Surface lots are often the most desolate of places. Owners resist doing anything on them accept monthly rents. Any attempt to landscape them or place a building on them is often scorned. The RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre was nearly thwarted from expansion by the province who did not want to lose their surface lot. They were shamed into it. However, the net result is that the city has seen every trade show and convention expand accordingly. Hotels have a fairly good occupancy rate in the city and the development along with the BellMTS has triggered other long time parking lots to be used for hotels and offices.
I think many Winnipeggers are coming to realize that it is on us to find ways to build employment and livability. Family companies have been doing that for generations in Winnipeg whether it is retailer, financial services, restaurant or manufacturer. The family firm of them all is the Richardsons and each year that goes by, they continue to invest.
The Richardson Innovation Center will be 62,000 square feet and be a research center for the AG division of the company. It will bring top researchers under one roof and look to develop food science technologies to bring to market.
Up completion, a walk down down Lombard will be a walk down history for Winnipeg in terms of architecture and business. Only a few parking lots on the surface will remain and another building block will be in place for what everyone hopes the city will be. And that is a vital community, with meaningful paid work and a future for us all.
This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations