St. Charles Hotel owner envisions affordable housing project in long-vacant building

The owner of the St. Charles Hotel says he has a plan to transform the long-vacant establishment on Notre Dame Avenue into an affordable housing project. 

Ken Zaifman has owned the hotel for more than a decade and tried to have it demolished in 2008 to make way for a boutique hotel. 

That plan failed when the City of Winnipeg refused to remove the hotel from its historical buildings list, which requires any renovations to preserve the facade. 

Now Zaifman plans to apply for funding from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation to turn it into affordable housing.

“Having a portion of it affordable may allow some individuals to live in a place that will be … new and modern and have amenities,” he said.

“Hopefully the plan is it will attract tenants, and we’ll meet certain social outcomes … where there’s a need for those.”

A short walk down the street, Andrew Aigbedo has owned the African Food General store for more than a decade and says the St. Charles Hotel has been vacant the entire time.

He says having the vacant building has not served the community well.

“Every building that is unoccupied is a potential risk to the community, to the business and to vandalism at large,” Aigbedo said.

“We have been lucky over the past few years that arson has not taken place in that location.”

A man is standing in a store with rows of shelves stocked with food behind him.
Andrew Aigbedo is the owner of African Food General on Notre Dame Avenue. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

The hotel at the corner of Notre Dame and Albert Street on the southwestern edge of the Exchange District was built in 1913 and was one of Winnipeg’s premier hotels, said Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg.

The interior has been gutted, but the exterior is protected by the building’s historical designation, which it has had since 1986, according to a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg.

The head of Heritage Winnipeg says they have tried to work with Zaifman to redevelop the hotel for years.

“Because we have not wanted that building vacant, sitting, derelict and deteriorating and it doesn’t seem anything has come into fruition,” Tugwell said.

“It’s great news, but I’m very pragmatic. I’m just not sure how it’s going to unfold as far as how serious is he?”

A grand dining room with columns reaching up to the second story is shown in a historical black and white photo.
The interior of the St. Charles Hotel, built in 1913, has been gutted, but the exterior must be preserved because of the building’s historical designation. (City of Winnipeg)

The city spokesperson would not confirm whether the hotel falls under the city’s vacant buildings bylaw, although Zaifman said he believes it does. 

Fees for keeping the building boarded up carry a cost of $2,517 in the first year, and cost thousands of dollars more each subsequent year. 

Turning the St. Charles into affordable housing would relieve Zaifman of those costs, as well as potentially make it eligible for tax increment financing, he said.

Aigbedo is excited about the possibility of more people living in the area.

“At least it will bring life to the community as well. I believe that, if it is a living quarter, it will help the community, not just the local business only.”

If the owner of the St. Charles does get federal funding for the redevelopment, it will still be years before anyone moves in.

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