Anger grows in St. B
over Sals on footbridge unleashes pent-up frustration
By Mary Agnes Welch
February 18th, 2005 -
THE backlash in St. Boniface against the decision to award Salisbury
House the contract for a restaurant on the Esplanade Riel points
to the area's deeper discontent with city hall, community leaders
"This is a symptom of a much larger problem. This is just a
piling on," said Daniel Boucher, president of the Société
"The lines of communication have not been that good recently
and anger is running quite deep."
Many St. Boniface residents say the Salisbury decision betrays the
original vision for the pedestrian bridge that links the French
Quarter and The Forks.
Instead of another outlet for the Sals chain that is renowned for
its hamburgers, they had hoped for a high-end bistro serving French-influenced
Both St. Boniface Coun. Franco Magnifico and Mayor Sam Katz fired
back at critics yesterday, saying St. Boniface's needs are a high
priority at city hall.
They also said the francophone community failed to put forward a
viable, French-inspired proposal to fill the empty Esplanade Riel
That left the city with no choice but to award the contract to Salisbury
But Boucher said discontent with the Katz administration has been
percolating for months, starting last fall with the announcement
that mandatory bilingual service would not be part of the search
for a tenant on the pedestrian bridge. It was a requirement during
the first round of bidding, which produced only one viable proposal
that council ultimately rejected.
"That was not a good way to start," said Boucher.
Since then, Boucher and other leaders point to a litany of projects
meant to spur a renaissance in St. Boniface that they say have been
delayed, rejected or left mired in confusion.
That includes a two-year-old deal to bury the ugly Manitoba Hydro
towers that run through the French Quarter and plans to redevelop
the rundown Pointe Hébert neighbourhood and the old Le Rendez-Vous
And, last month, city hall informed the Franco-Manitoban Cultural
Centre (CCFM) that it could not contribute $500,000 it promised
to renovate the cultural hub and build a new theatre for the Cercle
Molière, Canada's oldest drama troupe.
"It may cause us to reconsider the project as conceived or
it may sabotage the whole thing or we may have to start digging
around for other funding," said Paul Léveillé,
Cercle Molière's administrator.
The federal and provincial governments have each chipped in $1.9
million to the $5.4-million renovation, but Katz recently told the
CCFM that a $57-million budget shortfall this year prevents him
from contributing cash promised by former mayor Glen Murray.
Katz said yesterday he supports the CCFM renovation and hopes to
deliver the funding from the Winnipeg Development Agreement, a $75-million
pot of money meant for community projects.
Roland Marcoux, president of the Old St. Boniface residents association,
said many have begun to wonder if Katz understands the issues in
the neighbourhood and in the francophone community.
"It's a question of playing a leadership role and having some
vision and not letting the city bureaucracy make decisions,"
said Marcoux. "I'm losing a lot of confidence in this guy."
On Wednesday, Katz and his executive policy committee chose Sals
to set up shop on the $22-million footbridge connecting the city's
French Quarter to The Forks. The move came after months of delays
and a tortuous search for willing bidders.
Of the four bids the city received, Sals offered the city the most
lucrative deal, though the city is still on the hook for more than
$400,000 in improvements to the bridge's central plaza.
Many residents, community leaders and business people in St. Boniface
view the bridge as the symbolic link between the city's francophone
and anglophone cultures and a celebration of the city's French roots.
Katz and Magnifico were greeted with boos when they attended an
event Wednesday night at the Festival du Voyageur, though Katz said
the negative feedback was the work of only five or six people in
Boucher said community leaders will gather in the next few days
to decide whether to launch a petition, letter-writing campaign
or some other push to get city hall's attention.
But Magnifico had some testy words for his ward yesterday, saying
he inherited a host of problems and promises from former mayor Murray,
including the empty plaza on the Esplanade Riel.
"One thing St. Boniface better understand in a hurry is that
these aren't my problems. These are problems left by the previous
administration," he said. "If they want to blame me, they
can go ahead."
Magnifico also said he knows many influential, wealthy French-Canadians
who didn't make a play for the bridge restaurant.
"If it's such a wonderful idea and such a viable project, put
your money up, hire some people, open a restaurant," he said.
Katz echoed Magnifico's comments, saying he encouraged St. Boniface's
economic development agency, Entreprises Riel, to beat the bushes
for a better tenant but got little response.
"If you're not happy with this scenario and you want to know
who to blame, take a good look in the mirror," said Katz.
Magnifico said he would meet Salisbury House officials today to
try to persuade them to tweak their plan to better reflect Franco-Manitoban
Sals plans to open a more upscale location with a lounge for musical
acts and a patio.
The perceived snub of St. Boniface by city hall was a common topic
yesterday evening at the Festival du Voyageur.
"I must say I'm really disappointed," said Renaud Lafond,
Lafond, a student at College Universitaire de Saint-Boniface, said
it doesn't seem that Katz has a feel for St. Boniface.
-- With files from Jason Bell
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