Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Winnipeg’s Main Street Redevelopment

For decades the section of Main Street city hall to the Higgins underpass was considered Winnipeg’s “skid row”. Once a lively area full of theatres, hotels, and the CN passenger rail station it devolved into an area of few businesses, badly neglected buildings, single room occupancy hotels, a Salvation Army hostel and well as numerous missions and soup kitchens.

Circa 1976 UofM Tribune Collection PC 18-2822-024

Circa 2008

In the nineties a series of projects were started in the hopes of turning the area around. Some SRO’s were demolished, CN's passenger station became an aboriginal education centre, space was cleared for Thunderbird House, an aboriginal community and spiritual centre.

The spin-off revitalization never materialized and for another few years the area remained stagnant. It was not until the late 00’s that something would happen, this time from the grassroots.

Two established businesses, The Neon Factory sign company and Bridgman Collaborative Architects announced that they were relocating there.

While these new businesses were moving in something was happening across the street as well. The Occidental Hotel, one of Winnipeg’s more infamous rough and tumble SRO bars, reverted to it’s pre-1896 name of the White Rose Hotel, a hostel for people with special needs and for artists. The bar became a dry lounge. The Norman’s Meats building became The Edge art gallery with studio space.

In February 2008 rumours began that CentreVenture, the civic agency responsible for marketing city owned-land, had reached a deal with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority for a new building on the west side of Main Street.

The announcement was made official on March 18 2008. The deal would see the Starland and Rex theatres as well as Jack’s Hostel demolished. The Bell Hotel would be spared, renovated into housing.

I am a bit disappointed with the announcement.

Dropping a suburban style “9 to 5″ office building into the middle of the strip does not fit with what has been happening in the area. The gains made through artists leaving the nearby Exchange District have given the area its first shot of life in decades. It should e nurtured and grown.

It's disappointing that two theatres, of all things, will be demolished rather than possibly be incorporated into what has been happening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think that we should critisize anyone who is trying to bring people and new development to that area. Sure it would be nice if someone would come along and restore all the buildings and some how turn it into an attractive location but for the time being I am pretty happy that the WRHA is doing what they are doing.