An historic development is taking shape on 16-acres of former rail yards near downtown Winnipeg.
Gem Equities Inc. and Lexington Investment Corp. plan to build infill housing in the city’s first Transit Oriented Development (TOD).
“I think it is the future,” says Gem Equities CEO Andrew Marquess. “Every other city sees density and development along transit lines. I don’t see why Winnipeg would be any different.”
Density is Key
Transit has always been significant in Winnipeg’s development. In 1881, the first rail line linking Winnipeg to the east spurred mass immigration, swelling the city’s population 7-fold in 40-years.
In 2011, following consultations with developers and the public, the city adopted TOD as part of a 25-year vision for sustainable growth named OurWinnipeg.
Simply, Winnipeg’s TOD provides a development blueprint for medium to high density infill opportunities within close proximity to major transit stops – 15-17 dwelling units per hectare (du/ha) on net average for a street bus line and 22-62 du/ha on net average for rapid transit.
City of Winnipeg Manager of Real Estate, Planning. Property and Development John Zabudney calls TOD the “complete community approach”, integrating existing infrastructure and services with lifestyle needs.
Gem Equities owns the land involved in Winnipeg’s first TOD. Known as the Fort Rouge Yards, the industrial acres have been virtually unused since rail yards on the site closed in 1975.
The Yards are flanked by a century-old neighbourhood featuring classic two-story prairie homes and leafy boulevards; and the city’s newly-opened Rapid Transit Corridor linking the downtown with the city’s south via express bus.
Marquess plans to build 900 condo and townhouse units alongside the Rapid Transit Corridor. Phase 1 is scheduled for occupancy in late 2013.
“On the south end of the site, we are zoned for two high-rise towers,” says Marquess, 14 and 20-storey towers with more than 500 units. “That’s also where the transit station will go. In that sense, it’s unique that you can live in a high-rise and walk out your door and have access to the rapid transit line.”
Gem Equities will construct a new $3 million transit access station as part of the development. Also on the site will be 25 single-family units and at least 72 units in a medium rise structure of six to eight storeys.
“It’s trying to create as much density as you can within a development according to the TOD guidelines,” says Marquess, “but being sensitive to the community that you are going to be neighbours to. Trying to keep the mix in balance is always a challenge.”
A Safe Bet?
The influential Emerging Trends in Real Estate, published by the Urban Land Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers, has consistently rated TOD as a top investment prospect because TODs appreciate faster in good market conditions and hold value in down markets.
Winnipeg city officials suggest transit oriented development will especially appeal to the aging Baby Boomer generation as empty-nesters and the newly-retired seek downsizing opportunities which allow aging in place.
And the city is doing more than just talking about TOD.
Marquess reportedly secured $14.7 million in loans for the Yards project through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, of which Winnipeg city council agreed to guarantee $10 million. The city’s chief financial officer has publicly stated the city could be on the hook for $7 million if Marquess defaults during construction.
Proponents hope the Fort Rouge Yards development can reverse a steady decline in population experienced by the local community over the past 40 years.
Public consultations took place in September 2010. Marquess notes that weaving through the bureaucracy has taken time since TOD in Winnipeg is “not yet a well-blazed trail.”
But he stresses the project is on-schedule, and dealings with the city have been very positive to this point.
“We tried to understand what would need to be done with the development”, says Marquess. “And we tried to make the development fit with what the city was looking for and what we thought would be a feasible economic development which would be a success financially.”
Gem Equities is currently awaiting permitting before site servicing begins this fall.
“We are moving ahead,” says Marquess. “The next test is when we go to market some of the units, and the market will tell.”
Download the Yards at Fort Rouge: A T.O.D. Development Master Plan
Winnipeg TOD Defined
Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in Winnipeg is specifically defined in the city’s planning document OurWinnipeg as:
“Moderate to higher density compact mixed-use development, located within an easy five to ten minute (approximately 400m to 800m) walk of a major transit stop. TOD involves high quality urban development with a mix of residential, employment and shopping opportunities, designed in a pedestrian oriented manner without excluding the automobile. TOD can be new construction or redevelopment of one or more buildings whose design and operation facilitate the use of convenient and sustainable modes of transportation, including public transit and active transportation.”