Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Winnipeg Urban Renewal Mega-projects: The North Portage Development

Winnipeg has a history of had a number of mega-project redevelopment ideas that started with lofty goals and many tens of millions of dollars later the results are mixed. Note that these are not pokes at the buildings and institutions themselves but just a look-see at what has happened in the past.

Number 3: The North Portage Development (approx 1980 - 1985 )

History: The North Portage Development Corporation (NPDC) was incorporated on December 13, 1983 with the three levels of governments as partners.

Portage Place

Renewal Goals: The objective of the corporation was to “provide a mechanism for implementing the redevelopment of the North Portage area through a combination of investments by the Corporation, the private sector, institutions and governments”. The largest of these projects were Portage Place and Place Promenade. A huge retail, commercial and residential complex in the heart of downtown Winnipeg.

Portage Av 1979 PC 18- 5399- 18-4584-001
Image: U of M Tribune Archives,
Number PC 18- 5399- 18-4584-001

Winnipeg's downtown, like other cities, had hit hard times. Years of downtown development such as the Convention Centre / Holiday Tower complex and the new office buildings of the late 60's and 70's on Broadway had drastically decreased the amount of housing available in the downtown. On the retail side, many medium sized retailers fled the downtown for the safer environs of Polo Park and other malls leaving the Portage strip to host a lot of arcades, adult cinemas and lower-end retail.

Following the trend of dozens of North American cities before it, Winnipeg decided 'if you can't beat them, join them' and partnered with Cadillac Fairview and other developers to build a suburban mall downtown. The complex included hundreds of apartments to the north of the mall.

Area torn down: 5 square blocks (this included additional land for Air Canada Centre, Fred Douglas Lodge, One Canada Centre / Investors Building).

Influence as an urban renewal tool to the surrounding area: Mixed. On the one hand it did provide retailers with a new venue and re-attracted national chain stores downtown. It also provided hundreds of new living spaces to an area where new housing stock was not the norm.

Place Promenade Portage

On the negative side, many blame the scale of the project for killing street-level retail downtown, especially on the south side of Portage Avenue.

As the reality set in that mimicking the suburbs was not a sustainable option for North American downtowns areas like Corydon and Osborne found success as the mall emptied out through the 1990's.

Place Promenade
Image: Stores removed from street front in Place Promenade

Today, though the mall is doing better, the residential has aged and become low market compared to what it was. Most would consider it, in hindsight, neutral at best as a downtown redevelopment tool.

Price tag: $80m (mall) $300m for the mall and Place Promenade and parking structure (source CBC report) .

Part 1: Civic Centre
Part 2: Manitoba Centennial Centre
Part 3: Portage Place
Part 4: The MTS Centre
Part 5: Conclusion


Anonymous said...

You are generous in your assessment of the impacts. I heard that the previous landlord had to induce tenants to go into Portage Place by tying them into leases at Polo Park - you didn't do one, you didn't get the other.

Christian Cassidy said...

I heard that in the past as well. - The CBC story on youtube with Walker sort of hints at it.

However it happened behind the scenes, it brought / kept a lot of stores there that would have been long gone for people living there and helped it gain brownie points in the short term !

Anonymous said...

This was the nail in the coffin for downtown.