putting life back into downtown
Downtown Winnipeg is dead. Not half dead. But completely dead. It's one department store is half empty and cavernous, the two small malls are empty except for pensioners and delinquent youth. The smell of dope on the street is obvious.
The magnificent exchange district with its fine Chicago inspired warehouses and office buildings is deserted - a few bars and restaurants, but otherwise after 6pm its dead. Many of these warehouses are empty, awaiting a new use. Others are in use as offices, or speciality stores. But there is no life.
Portage Avenue, Winnipeg's version of Dublin's O'Connell Street has "for lease" signs on almost every building. Others are empty, waiting to fall down. There is only a handful of shop units at streetlevel in use. The streetscape looks poor and dirty. There are some fine buildings but they're surround by single and double storey infil development which take away from the entire street. The width of the street is ruined by a concrete barrier down the length of it, instead of a central mall with trees. The central junction of the city, Portage and Main, is closed to pedestrians, they are forced underground where they can enter the surrounding office blocks without setting foot on the street.
But all this may change.
All of a sudden there is a buzz. On Wednesday night, the first hockey game was played in the new downtown arena. Think of an indoor arena for concerts and hockey that would seat 15,000 and placed on the site of Dublin's Clerys or London's Selfridges. For thats what they did. When Eatons, a massive department store closed, it was razed to the ground and this new arena built. Costing 133M Canadian, its architectural merit is dubious at best, but the value of the building is what it brings to the downtown potentially.
Coupled with that, the local electricity utility firm Manitoba Hydro has announced that it will built its new head office forover 2000 employees on the street, a block west of the arena. This looks like it could be a great building, elegant and modern.
But will all this investment kick downtown into life? Will people stay on after work or a gig for a meal and a drink? Or will they still jump in their SUVs and head for the suburbs? At the opening night gig of the arena, people were quoted as saying that they hadn't been downtown in over a decade and they were impressed by it.
Scary, I've never seen such a depressing downtown and that includes Dublin in the 1970s. What kills me though, is that if I had some money, not a lot, say 500k Euro, there is massive opportunity to be had. Unfortunately I don't have money.
Paul Clerkin, right place, wrong time, yet again.
So what do people think? Can two specific projects kick start a revival in a decaying downtown? Will it create an upwards spiral of demand for more bars and restaurants, which creates more of a buzz so people will actually travel downtown to socialise, creating yet more demand.....