Brandon University (BU) has reached agreements through the approval and support of the City of Brandon and Renaissance Brandon to expand its downtown footprint significantly.
“This is a truly exciting opportunity that we are ready to seize,” said BU President Dr. Gervan Fearon. “We are building on the priorities of our Academic Plan and on the themes emerging from our Campus Master Plan to serve as a catalyst for growth and innovation, and to leverage the University’s capacity in support of community development. We will be pursuing a large-scale mixed-use and residence development in the downtown core that is good for BU students, faculty and staff, and for our partners. This is an outstanding development for the city and the entire region.”
A motion passed by Brandon City Council on Monday night, Feb. 6, and an agreement in principle reached with Renaissance Brandon, will increase BU’s new downtown holdings to five parcels of land on the 100-block of downtown Brandon between Ninth Street and 10th Street adjacent to the former Strand Theatre. Yielding tremendous value to the city and to the University for years to come, the land transfers are at minimal dollar value to facilitate the initiative while not straining the University’s financial resources. Favourable discussions are also underway with a private landowner to acquire two more neighbouring properties which would complete a parcel of nearly 70,000 square feet for the future development.
“It’s been a very positive and constructive working relationship with the City of Brandon, Renaissance Brandon, Landmark Cinemas, and other landowners to assemble these properties,” President Fearon said. “This initiative was sparked by the generous decision of Landmark Cinemas to make the former Strand Theatre property available to us, allowing us to bring all of the parties to the table and develop a collaborative vision for downtown.”
The property being assembled covers the entire vacant southern half of the 100-block between Ninth Street and 10th Street at Princess Avenue. The University is committed to a development that will add value to the existing neighbourhood, bringing new amenities and vitality to the downtown core.
Brandon University is already building new community partnerships. Discussions with senior housing group Servants of Service to explore combining a student residence with a seniors’ residence have been fruitful, and the University and Servants of Service have completed an initial senior’s housing survey. This partnership will extend the benefits of the downtown initiative beyond the University to support housing for seniors who also face a tremendous shortage of available or affordable space within Brandon.
“We’re very pleased with these developments. There’s a clear demand for affordable housing for people of all ages in Brandon. Rather than working in silos, this concept will allow us to share design and project costs that seemed to be duplicated in the past,” said Jim Brannan of Servants of Service. He says students and seniors have a lot in common in terms of residential requirements: smaller spaces, laundry facilities, and easy access to food outlets, banking, professional services and a great transit system.
“We see this trend in affordable housing in the U.S. and particularly in the Netherlands, where seniors and students intermingle in the same complex with the benefit of being able to exchange thoughts and ideas. It just makes sense for us to work together.”
Future commercial partnerships could include offices, retail or food service in the building, and the University will be exploring options for development partnerships and other innovative arrangements.
“We will be doing further consultations with our students, faculty and staff as we determine how a downtown campus can best fill student residence, teaching and learning, and academic needs,” President Fearon said. “Over the past several months, we have already done extensive community consultations for BU’s Campus Master Plan and I have heard the need for mixed-use space, combining residences and commercial partnerships with academic programming. This is a long-term initiative with a payoff to be delivered over years and even decades. It is fitting that we are embarking on this as we mark 50 years since our establishment as a university and as we look towards the 120th anniversary of the institution in 2019.”
With the decision of Brandon City Council and the arrangements with Renaissance Brandon, BU will now dig deeper into refining a vision for the future of the downtown campus and will establish an advisory committee consisting of BU faculty, staff and students as well as community representatives to develop and consider future uses for the property.
“A major new presence downtown will enable us to increase the impact of our university-community engagement significantly,” said Dr. Steve Robinson, BU’s Vice President, Academic and Provost. “A Brandon University presence downtown opens doors to new academic and research activities, as well as for co-op work-study collaborations and experiential educational opportunities for our students, faculty and staff.”
“Building a new development downtown is an excellent opportunity for Brandon University to expand and integrate into the city,” added Brandon University Students’ Union President Nick Brown. “We will be able to address students’ housing needs, including students with families, and the academic space needs of BU.”
On March 9, the Campus Master Plan process will continue, with an open house held for members of the public, along with students, faculty and staff, to share their ideas for the development, as well as possible partnerships.
An engineering assessment shows that the decade-long and unfortunate deterioration of the building makes restoring the former Strand Theatre not feasible. Nonetheless, BU is committed to salvaging and preserving the building’s key cultural and historical details. Before the existing structure is taken down, experts from BU and the community will document the building’s history for the S.J McKee Archives at BU, and for display in the new downtown development.
Brandon University aims to preserve elements of the building and its design in a fashion that is complementary to the area and future development of the downtown core.
The BU downtown initiative will be transformative for the city. A mixed-use development anchored by BU is expected to encourage further investment and revitalization in the area.
A mixed-use development of this magnitude, including education, commercial space and residences for students and seniors, will unquestionably spark new energy in the heart of our city,” said Steve McMillan, Renaissance Brandon Board Chair. “People who live and study downtown will also shop, eat and play downtown which will boost foot traffic for existing downtown businesses. This development will also help add diversity to our downtown and will increase the number of people walking the streets at all times of the day. This development will truly make a huge difference to downtown Brandon.”
The University is continuing discussions to finalize arrangements.
“We are very pleased with the progress of our discussions, work and engagement with Brandon University,” said Curtis Shewchuk, on behalf of the ownership group of the remaining two properties. “We are very supportive of this project and feel it will be a catalyst for the redevelopment of downtown Brandon.”
As BU’s downtown initiative continues to unfold, the priorities that remain front and centre are academic excellence, serving students, supporting faculty and staff and building possibilities for the university for decades to come.
“Brandon University is a leader,” said Derrick Stewart, chair of the BU Board of Governors. “As we strengthen the University and support the growth of our city, we will continue to demonstrate our leadership in community engagement, teaching and learning, and research activities. This shared community vision will redefine downtown Brandon for decades to come. Along with students, faculty and staff, we all can be proud and excited about the promising future ahead for the University and city.”
Brandon University invites everyone to be a part of the downtown vision by sharing their thoughtful comments online at BrandonU.ca/Downtown and by participating in our next Campus Master Plan open house on March 9.
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