Museum presentation at Commercial REALTORS® breakfast

Over 100 commercial REALTORS® gathered at the commercial division breakfast on February 9, 2009 to listen to a presentation about the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Grant Van Iderstine of Smith Carter Architects was on hand to explain how the museum will be designed.  While part of the structure will be below ground level, a grand view will be afforded when you enter the glass elevators and rise 12 storeys up the tower of hope. 

The museum, with 260,000 square feet of space, will be the largest human rights museum in the world. The building will be oriented to take advantage of as much natural light as possible. At 328 feet high, this museum, when completed in 2012, will incorporate approximately 58,000 square feet of glass.

Van Iderstine highlighted the extensive and very thorough research the award-winning American architect Antoine Predock did in creating his final three dimensional model of the museum.  This would become the basis for the drawings and blueprints that PCL Construction will use to build the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

Sean Barnes of PCL confirmed his national firm is ready to break ground on the museum by April 1, 2009. Passersby will  see fencing go up around the site at the Forks this month. Barnes’s presentation on the construction of the museum was well received as it provided much insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by the construction industry.  The sourcing of materials, hiring of sub-contractors and labour required by their own firm were a few of the points addressed for a project of such magnitude. One challenge is the depreciation of the Canadian dollar and how that can significantly increase the costs to get materials such as steel from the US, or glass from Germany. 

On the other hand, the lower price of oil helps to reduce the price of local materials such as cement. PCL will source locally manufactured rebar, and local lumber and stone materials including limestone. Another result of the Canadian economic slowdown is the delay or suspension of major capital projects in provinces such as Alberta. This frees up many needed skilled craftsmen who can now travel to Manitoba to work on the museum. PCL will employ 250 people when it reaches peak activity during the 3-year construction period.

In addition to the anticipation and importance of the museum project to Manitoba, Barnes gave everyone some insight into other major projects happening or planned over the next few years. It was encouraging to hear that $1.5 billion in new construction opportunities will be forthcoming this year, and there is much more to be announced over the next five years. This includes big ticket projects like the construction of new Manitoba Hydro generating stations, the East Road Project, and City of Winnipeg pollution control centre upgrades at both ends of the city. 

Patrick O’Reilly, the chief operating officer of the museum, was proud to say he has the best ‘gig’ in the country. This is the first national museum to be built outside Ottawa, and also the first national museum since 1967. He went on to explain how Canada’s fifth national museum will preserve and promote the heritage of our country and be a source of inspiration, knowledge and enlightenment. It will offer a leading edge visitor experience.

The museum, when fully operational will create 140 to 180 full time jobs – currently there are nine employees. The Manitoba economic impact assessments of the museum are based on total capital expenditures of $294.9 million, annual operating expenditures of $27.2 million and annual visitor expenditures of $25.7 million.

Over and above all the positive economic spin-offs O’Reilly provided from the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics, he told REALTORS® to watch for other opportunities that may arise as a result of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Purposeful partnerships could happen with industry on a number of fronts and O’Reilly indicated the only limit is imagination. The CMHR website is well established and illuminates visitors as to the world’s human rights story. He said, “The journey of discovery and awe has begun.”

Gail Asper, daughter of the late Israel Asper, and indefatigable promoter of the museum he envisioned, has made her father’s dream a reality. She has been integral and unwavering in her desire for this centerpiece to be built in Winnipeg. Gail Asper said CMHR is more a life-changing odyssey than a museum. She indicated it will truly be a social and economic force for our city and province. Winnipeg will be the beneficiary of museum revenue and the museum has the potential to kick-start other local businesses — some of which may be involved in preparing our city for visitors from around the world who will be drawn to this new landmark.

Asper talked about the need to spend more on tourism and to expand our convention centre so it will complement the new museum. She was also beaming with pride that no other museum has initiated a student travel program as this museum will. Thanks to Rotary International, in conjunction with CMHR’s national student travel program, students from around the world will come to see and appreciate all the museum has to offer.

In her final pronouncements, as the National Campaign Chair for the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Asper appealed to REALTORS® to help her reach the private sector fundraising goal necessary to build this spectacular and truly outstanding hub for human rights; still more funding is required. As Gail Asper’s father was known to say, ‘you do not want to be penny wise and pound foolish’. Let’s make it the crown jewel it deserves to be.

Concluding this very informative and uplifting breakfast meeting presentation was Arni Thorsteinson, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. He is better known to Commercial REALTORS® as the President and principal of Shelter Canadian Properties Limited and as a founder of Lanesborough, Huntingdon, Temple and White Rock Real Estate Investment Trusts.

Thorsteinson generously gave his own assessment of the local commercial real estate market for the benefit of those in attendance. In brief, Thorsteinson said he is relatively optimistic, given all the bad economic news we are hearing from across the country and abroad. Multi-family rental looks favourable due to good financing availability and increased rental demand due to some recent fall-off in home ownership; there is also limited new rental supply.

He feels the office market will remain stable and retail sales will continue to perform above average. In his view, the new federal budget support of the CentrePort project comprising land around the airport is very exciting and has the potential to create huge long-term demand for industrial real estate investment.

Of course, with the museum securely on its way, he is positive about more hotel and restaurant development which will accommodate the potential increase in visitors.

2009 Commercial Division chair Don White thanked everyone for coming, including the guest speakers. WinnipegREALTORS® is one of the major supporters of the museum and continues to raise money through its web address.