Waterfront Drive: A perfect balance of urban living and nature

Urban design attempts to create harmony between people and the natural features of the surrounding environment. When a perfect balance is achieved between urban living and the greenspaces within and around it, wonderful things happen. Waterfront Drive is one of those innovative urban developments that has achieved this harmony.

The Exchange District Waterfront strategy was ​launched by CentreVenture and the City of Winnipeg, beginning in 2000. At the time, access to the Red River in the Exchange District (from the Provencher Bridge to Higgins Avenue) was characterized by gravel parking lots, the backs of warehouses and properties in a state of disrepair. 

Many people saw the untapped potential of the area and the benefits of turning The Exchange District back to the waterfront. Out of this foresight came a 17-year strategy, built on strong public/private collaboration, to create a neighborhood capable of supporting downtown living while creating a place that all Winnipeggers could enjoy.

Since t​he launch of the strategy, the neighbourhood has seen over $250 million in private investment including nearly 500 new housing units, 12 vacant or derelict building conversions, and numerous new restaurant and hospitality concepts.

Winnipeg’s Exchange District is host to unique 1900s architectural heritage buildings. Part of that area specifically — Waterfront Drive from Lombard Avenue to Higgins Avenue — had been a former railway transfer track property that, along with the historic buildings in the area, was in derelict condition.

The natural features of the neighbourhood, the Red River and Stephen Juba Park, were highlighted as unique attractions, and access points and sightlines to these features were established. The existence and significance of the historical buildings was respected, while connecting the development to a pedestrian-oriented setting. New road systems were built to encourage circulation of traffic and pedestrians, leading to one of Winnipeg’s first roundabouts and creating useful connections to streets that were previously dead ends.

The design of Waterfront Drive created a walkable and safe neighbourhood while incorporating the natural features of the East Exchange District and fostering economic development.

Some of the condos along Waterfront Drive include The Excelsior, The Strand, Ship Street Village and Sky Waterfront, along with other residential options like the YouCUBE townhouses and H20 apartments. Premiere Executive Suites offers furnished short-term rental units.

The fabulous boutique hotel Mere is located here. Step inside and you’ll find service that is friendly with a hip vibe and distinct personality. It’s ideal for a staycation with its complimentary bicycles and pet-friendly rooms.

The Qualico Training Centre is located nearby on Pacific Avenue. Their fitness programs and services are available both in-person and virtually.

Many more amenities are within walking distance of Waterfront Drive, including Old Market Square and all the unique restaurants and businesses of the Exchange District. You can also walk to The Manitoba Museum and at the Centennial Concert Hall, along with theatre productions at MTC, MTC Warehouse or The Pantages.

Located directly on Waterfront Drive itself are restaurants like Carnaval Brazilian BBQ, Harrisons Coffee Co. and Cibo Waterfront Cafe, along with many other services from designer fashion at Flaunt Boutique to relaxing massages at Anchor Massage Therapy.

From here, just a short walk will take you across Main Street to The Forks, a vibrant site full of businesses and restaurants, walking trails and water taxis. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is located here. And just a fly ball away is Shaw Park if you’re a baseball fan.

The next phase of Exchange Waterfront strategy, currently underway, is seeing $7.8 million invested in public-realm improvements throughout the neighbourhood through the ​​​​Exchange Waterfront Neighbourhood Development Program, funded by the City of Winnipeg and Province of Manitoba through tax increment financing (TIF). This program is making investments in streetscaping, public art, safety measures, alternative transportation, along with heritage and retail recruitment strategies. This will complete the Exchange Waterfront neighbourhood, attracting further housing and commercial development.

One of the current developments include turning the James Avenue Pumping Station into a mixed-use facility, along with two new structures on its east and west facades. A floor plate will be installed inside the building, above the original historic floor, with its turn-of-the-century machinery, and tenants of the new office space above will be able to view the machine works below.

The long-term vision for Waterfront Drive transformed derelict, unused space into a vibrant, modern and mixed-use neighbourhood with beautiful greenspaces accessible to everyone.