A new ownership group now controls two properties on the west side of Osborne Street, north of the rapid transit station, and expects to begin construction this fall of a 17-storey apartment building — featuring Winnipeg’s first fully automated parkade.
Designed and supplied by Israeli company U-tron Systems Inc., it will offer parking for as many as three times the number of vehicles in a similarly-sized conventional garage.
U-tron was spun out of a company called Unitronics that designs programmable logic controls that are used in automated distribution centres. It started making parking systems about 15 years ago, and is considered a leader in the field.
In an interview with the Free Press from his office in Israel, U-tron chief executive officer Haim Shani said: "Our main competition is conventional parking garages."
In the automated structure, dollies and shuttles pack vehicles door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper, about 10 centimetres apart. The ceilings are so low for sedan-style cars, a tall person would not be able to stand upright. SUVs are parked on floors with slightly higher ceilings.
Drivers drop their vehicle off at an elegantly designed ground-level entrance bay with sensors that match car sizes with associated stalls inside. A shuttle delivers the vehicle to an appropriate stall, and returns it to the driver at the bay entrance when required.
Drivers can use a mobile app to bring their vehicle down, which will take about three to five minutes, U-tron says.
As no people need to be in the space and the vehicles are moved around with the ignition off, there is no need for ventilation or lighting.
“The power consumption of the system costs less than the lighting required if it was a normal parking garage.” – Haim Shani
"The power consumption of the system costs less than the lighting required if it was a normal parking garage," Shani said.
The idea is 134 parking spaces will accommodate the parking needs for the 96 residential units being constructed for the apartment building, and the excess will be available for tenants in the four-year-old, six-storey office building immediately north (257 Osborne St.).
The automated parking system had been contemplated by the former owners of the property, who "ran out of money," according to Jeff Silverstein, a representative of the new ownership group.
Although it has been completed for four years, the office building remains about 70 per cent vacant. While there are always competitive marketing considerations that will affect the success of any commercial building, Silverstein said a lack of parking has severely impaired its leasability.
"The issue or problem at the property was always about parking," he said. "Now that we have that issue or problem resolved, 257 Osborne is moving forward at high speed."
A new co-working space is about to open on the second floor, but there are still at least three floors vacant.
According to Shani, the U-tron system costs about the same as a conventional parkade structure but can be less expensive to maintain. "It is a very good solution when you have a high parking density situation."
The AI-enhanced system can also manage casual availability, so parking reserved for residents of the apartment building can be rented out to other users when that resident has their vehicle on the road.
Shani said, on average, the parking stalls achieve 140 per cent utilization.
Silverstein said the new partnership group (which owns both buildings but under separate companies) now has everything it needs to proceed, after recently receiving an extension from Winnipeg city hall on re-zoning regulations.
Because the two properties are both owned by the same group, the significant parking challenge the office building had experienced will be addressed by the new development and parking traffic will be able to pass through both properties through a "cross-parking agreement," Silverstein said.
The U-tron system is up and running in about 80 locations in Europe and about 40 North America.
Emma Alfons, a sales rep with Coldwell Banker Preferred Real Estate, is marketing both buildings. The automated parking concept will be attractive to potential renters, she said.
"We think the high-profile location will attract hip, young residents or hip middle-aged residents," she said. "Why not try a new concept? And we really need parking on Osborne."
Until the project is completed, Alfons said arrangements have been made for parking across the street for tenants of the office building.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.