The buildings and services provided by these facilities were all needed but in some cases the projects grew much larger than required and stifled the spin-off effects that they were supposed to create around them.
One might argue that had some of the complexes been split up and a series of smaller, purpose-built buildings were peppered around the core that it may have been cheaper and may have had a greater impact - it certainly would not have had less of an impact.
Given the money spent for very few results have we gone off the mega-project as a developemnt tool ? Not really.
Currently underway is the Manitoba Hydro Tower. Not located in the traditional office tower section of downtown or filling in one of the many vacant lots and pads that scar the face of downtown, the decision was made to remove a square block of retail on the south side of Portage. Retailing not that strong ? Tear it down and replace it with something else.
There is also the WRHA building on Main Street. An area undergoing a grassroots revitalization with artists lofts and galleries, a café and a couple of existing businesses moving into the area to take advantage of cheap rents. Instead of continuing to encouraging or fostering the bottom-up changes that were taking place, the city instead made masterminded a plan to tear down a block long section of the street for a low rise, suburban style office building.
Still in the debate stage is the grandest revitalization project, both in terms of land and cash, since The Forks or North Portage: the South Point Douglas Stadium. Another $300m in the hopes of creating a massive area revitalization with a football stadium as the anchor.
Why do we keep going back to the mega-project when we need to revitalize ?
I think there are a couple of reasons.
Winnipeg is very much an old boys network. If one of a handful of people come forward to present a project they will get the ear of the people in power. These projects, if created on a grander scale, can include publicl finance from those in power. Hard to justify building a number of small projects when you can get 50% - 75% of the cost covered for you from the public purse.
Winnipeg is very much a suburban city. Perhaps 70% of people polled might say they would love to see a vibrant downtown but it's likely that 15% of theme would actually go downtown next time they want to grab a bite or catch a movie. People are waiting for 'big change" and big project, it is hoped, will prove to them tht there has been big change.
From looking at these past projects, and the new ones on the horizon I really shake my head at Winnipeg's fondness for the mega-project as revitalization tool. I assume we're never going to learn the lesson until the core of the city is just a checkerboard of well intentioned but unsuccessful mega-projects.
Then we can send in the bulldozers and start all over again.