Downtown revitalization an evolutionary process

by Ross McGowan
CentreVenture Development Corporation, the city of Winnipeg’s downtown development agency, participated in the WinnipegREALTORS® eighth annual Forecast Breakfast in early January.  We had the opportunity to speak to over 300 real estate professionals, highlighting a number of our accomplishments and to provide a sense of our direction for 2014 and beyond.  
Revitalization is an evolutionary process, with each project building on another creating momentum that is exhibited in increased interest and investment. This process is evident — confidence in our city is at an all-time high, investment interest, particularly from the private sector, is significant. Concentrated residential development is underway in the Exchange District, and new exciting residential projects are emerging on Assiniboine with D Condos and Glass House leading the charge.  
Increasing residential density is of paramount importance to the long-term commercial success, safety and comfort of the downtown.
The SHED (Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District) is off the ground and is emerging as a complementary attraction to The Forks and Canadian Museum for Human Rights, with over $1.3 billion of investment.  
We are seeing great progress on and around Portage Avenue with the completion of the Manitoba Hydro Building, Centre Point is well underway, The Avenue Building is occupied, the RBC Convention Centre expansion construction is in the ground, and who could not be impressed with the Met Entertainment Centre. The real value is the impact on building an inclusive, sustainable and vibrant downtown in the heart of our city as the showpiece of our province.  
Our revitalization strategy is truly a partnership between the public and private sectors in the context of a longer-term vision of equal importance to both sectors. 
Sunstone Resort Communities have recently opened MERE Hotel on Waterfront Drive. The project is comprised of a 67-room boutique hotel complete with a casual-dining restaurant, the Cibo Waterfront Cafe in the former Harbour Master’s building overlooking the Red River.  This unique project, sensitive to its surroundings, includes a public plaza to the south adjacent to Steven Juba Park, a river-view deck, and pedestrian walkways which will link with existing pathways and future development sites to the north. 
The completion of the Avenue Building and the Union Tower on Main, are symbolically important to attracting further investment downtown.  The development community looks for these signals of commitment and understands fully the challenges associated with these projects.   
In 2010, we introduced the Portage Avenue Development Strategy that articulated a comprehensive social, physical and economic strategy to build momentum, attract and protect further private and public investment, while responding thoughtfully to the social issues that impact the Avenue.  
The Portage Plan also gave birth to the SHED. Building on the OurWinnipeg Plan and the Portage Avenue Development Strategy, the plan spells out the vision for the SHED, its guiding principles and the “big moves.” The vision for the SHED is simple: to create a distinct and dynamic urban place that ignites downtown revitalization efforts and energizes the entire city. CentreVenture will continue to act as the catalyst for the growth and development of the SHED. 
We are making great progress but there is much more work to be done. Our goal, as your downtown development agency, is to help lead the revitalization process by helping others achieve their goals be it the private sector or government. The challenge is to exceed our own expectations, as second best simply is not good enough and we strive for development excellence. 
It is our downtown’s time and the decisions we make today will have profound impacts for decades to come.  Let’s get it right, it is in our control but time is of great importance and that time is now.
(Ross McGowan is the president and CEO of CentreVenture.)