Businesses in 91 Albert Street made their building more unique on Feb. 1 when they took possession of it after over two years of planning.
The building is now owned by the Old Market Autonomous Zone (A-Zone) co-operative which is made up of members from six businesses in the building: Mondragon, Natural Cycle Couriers, ParIT, Winnipeg Copwatch, Rudolph Rocker Cultural Centre and the Boreal Forest Network.
Mark Jenkins, a member of ParIT, said it cost $660,000 to purchase the building.
Jenkins said the money came from fundraising, grants and tenants agreeing to pay higher rent.
The A-Zone also got money from three lenders: Assiniboine Credit Union, Canadian Alternative Investment Co-op and from vendor financing, said Jenkins.
He added that four businesses in A-Zone made corporate guarantees to the bank.
“We might own the zone but we’re not done saving it,” Jenkins said.
The co-op needs to raise capital to pay off the previous owner in the next five years, Jenkins explained.
Jenkins said the relationship with the other lenders would be long term, about 15 years, and sustainable.
Eton Harris, member of Mondragon and A-Zone, said the previous owner, Paul Burrows, got in touch with him and others in 2009 about selling the building and Harris has been involved ever since.
“He wanted to make sure that it was kept in the hands of the people who were actually living in it and working in it,” Harris said.
Harris said the building has a community of grassroots organizations, activist organizations, and alternative businesses and that could have changed with outside ownership.
“Every single group in the building [is] either a member or a tenant who supported the process,” he said.
Harris explained owning your own space allows for a degree of freedom and stability.
Harris said tenants in the building have a higher rent under A-Zone because the co-op is paying a mortgage on top of covering costs.
Doug Grant, a member of Natural Cycle, said he thinks the purchase is very exciting.
“I think in the long run it will be a huge benefit,” Grant said.
“Having everyone in the building cooperatively running and managing the building is more in line with what our beliefs are,” said Grant.
Grant explained A-Zone believes decisions should be co-operatively made, as opposed to by a single person.
Grant said one “contentious” issue about the purchase was Natural Cycle had to offer a guarantee to the bank and is now liable for $360,000 if A-Zone doesn’t make its payments.
He added that he thinks the building is unique because of its concentration of democratically run organizations and the purchase ensures that the building will be around in the future.
Tim Brandt, a member of Junto library, which is not a member of A-Zone, said he is amazed and relieved about the purchase of the building.
Brandt explained it guarantees that Junto library can stay in the building with a favourable rent.
He said if the building had been sold to some one else they might have raised the rent more than A-Zone did and Junto might have had to move.
Sandra Drofdowech, a member of Mondragon and A-Zone, said the purchase is wonderful news.
Drofdowech said Mondragon’s rent will be higher to support A-Zone but they were “more than willing” to pay more to support the building.
“The A-Zone’s always remained true to its original vision in terms of . . . being a hub for the activist community in Winnipeg,” said Drofdowech.
“It’s super great to have . . . this for the future generations.”