The Arc at 2525 Pembina
A building topping off is, by most accounts, a big moment. The Arc building at the corner of Pembina Highway and Bison Drive, Winnipeg, MB, is a celebration of perseverance. The developer, Campus Suites’ Henry Morton, a former Winnipegger, had the vision to build a signature building at the intersection it shares with the University of Manitoba.
Almost immediately, tests to the vision of a 16-floor purpose-built student housing on a small, awkward site (approx. 2 acres) began with the City of Winnipeg taking an unfavourable position on the proposed development. Through the demonstration of mixed-use, walkability, frequency of transit, a stand-alone bike pavilion to house 288 bikes, extensive community engagement, and its contribution to in-demand student housing, the developer was able to demonstrate (substantiate) the vision to the City of Winnipeg Council who ultimately approved the development. The second test to the vision came in the way of a major fire in December 2019. The fire, later identified as the work of arsonists, resulted in the loss of some floors and set back the project exponentially.
The Arc is a break from Winnipeg’s ‘box’ buildings that dot Winnipeg corridors, centres, and infill. They are buildings that are usually rectangular in shape. They are usually long and take up a lot of the development site. They tend to have a lot of surface parking. Why the boxes? It is a matter of economics.
Developers, not looking for a long and possibly protracted development approval process, will maximize their density (i.e. residential units) by building as much as they can using as much of their site as possible to stay within or close to regulatory zoning restrictions. The result – boxes – is usually accompanied by a lot of surface parking. Why surface parking? Because underground parking is extremely expensive and is considered an easy trade-off – the lower height of the building, fewer units = surface parking.
The Arc at 2525 Pembina is a break from this norm. The Arc is high density on a small parcel of land with little parking (41 surface stalls and 81 underground stalls). It will house 570 students once completed and opened. Its dense urban ‘form’ enabled the interesting and bold design to unfold. Imagine this – less than four years ago this site was home to an aging Dairy Queen. Today it is home to a signature building, new retail, safe place for students to live and work. It is also an economic development generator for the City of Winnipeg, exponentially increasing the site’s tax base. This project is a great example of what can happen when you think outside of the norm and are able to offer a product which greatly benefits all stakeholders.