By Murray McNeill
Winnipeg Free Press

Last year was the third-busiest on record for Manitoba’s construction industry, according to preliminary year-end building-permit data released Tuesday.

Statistics Canada said just over $2.6 billion worth of residential and non-residential permits were issued by local municipalities in 2016. That was a 12.5 per cent increase from 2015’s total of $2.3 billion.

It was also a nice rebound from 2015, which saw only the second year-over-year decline in permit activity in a decade. The only two years that saw higher building-permit totals than 2016 were 2013 ($2.61 billion) and 2014 (a record $2.8 billion).

Winnipeg Construction Association president Ron Hambley said 2016 was a pleasant surprise.

“We certainly were not expecting that kind of increase,” he said.

He also said the increase wasn’t just because of rising construction costs.

“Certainly this year, we haven’t heard any major complaints about escalating construction costs. But there is a tremendous amount of work taking place. You can see it,” Hambley said. “And the nice thing about it is that a good piece of it is private (sector projects).”

Last year’s increase in permit activity was evident on both sides of the construction industry. The non-residential-permits total of $1.2 billion was up 26.6 per cent from a year earlier, and the residential-permits total of $1.4 billion was up by 2.5 per cent.

On the non-residential side, the biggest increase was in the industrial category, where the value of permits jumped by 64.2 per cent to $249.6 million. The commercial category, which includes things such as retail and office buildings, saw the second-biggest gain at 29.1 per cent, while the institutional category saw a more modest increase of 0.8 per cent.

Hambley said a new waste-water treatment plant project in south Winnipeg, valued at about $300 million, and a number of smaller water-treatment projects in rural Manitoba, likely contributed to the big increase in industrial-permit activity.

In the commercial category, some of the notable projects include the $400-million True North Square development in downtown Winnipeg and the Seasons retail/office/residential development at the corner of Kenaston Boulevard and Sterling Lyon Parkway.

The latter includes the construction of a new $200-million premium fashion outlet mall, a $35-million Hilton Garden Inn hotel, a new St. James Audi dealership and a number of multi-family residential complexes.

“The amount of housing (under construction) on that site is staggering,” Hambley said.

He said 2017 is shaping up to be another busy year, with work continuing on the southeast Winnipeg water-treatment plant and design work getting underway on a new water-treatment plant in north Winnipeg. As well, construction is expected to begin on the proposed SkyCity Centre Winnipeg condo/office tower on Graham Avenue and on a new 40-storey apartment tower Artis REIT plans to build near the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street.

While a number of provincial-government funded projects are under review, Hambley said there are still plenty of federally funded projects that will be proceeding.

“So you’ll see a busy spring construction season,” he said.​