Downtown Winnipeg is on the right track

By Trevor Clay

With considerable development activity from a commercial and residential growth perspective, there is reason for optimism in Winnipeg’s downtown.

True North Square, despite not yet being completed, has already caused powerful impact to the dynamic of downtown Winnipeg by luring significant tenants away from Portage & Main. Scotiabank’s decision to relocate from 200 Portage, a building that they owned, and Thompson Dorfman Sweatman’s relocation from 201 Portage, have caused the downtown office market to experience considerable adjustment. While these moves will cause short term vacancy, these buildings will attract new tenants creating a ripple effect in the balance of the downtown.

Momentous shifts are also underway at The Forks with healthy reinvestment in The Common and the closure of Sydney’s Restaurant after 14 years in operation. The Railside at The Forks redevelopment will diversify the dynamics at The Forks with major residential progress evolving it into the true mixed-use site it has always been envisioned as.

The Exchange District continues to attract essential investment with companies like Skip the Dishes expanding its footprint into 140 Bannatyne Avenue and 423 Main Street. Developers from Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario are setting their sights on Winnipeg to invest and take advantage of opportunities in our stable but growing market. Projects like the Pumphouse are transforming assets through the introduction of new equity to the market and the willingness of government to support the efforts of private equity in complex projects such as this.

In addition to building projects, important social events and engagement opportunities such as Table for 1200, the Ice Castles and our river trail, give Winnipeggers a reason to view the downtown as a central community hub for reconnecting and recreation.

This excitement has led to considerable downtown population growth. Between 2001 and 2016, downtown Winnipeg’s population grew 31% to 17,000. This demographic is younger and highly educated and are increasingly willing to rent. Immigration is a major driver behind this growth and continues to be a major driver for Manitoba’s economy as a whole.

With the growing trend toward grocery delivery and online shopping, the need for a major grocery store and a vehicle to live downtown is shrinking.

While there will undoubtedly be challenges to face in terms of our office market, construction costs and interest rates, downtown Winnipeg is in a great place to build from and to create the vibrant core that we deserve.

(Trevor Clay is the chair of Commercial Division of WinnipegREALTORS®.)