The Exchange District has found its way into the news lately, especially when it comes to issues related to promoting living in the district -- such as a $10,000 incentive to entice people to make the Exchange their home. As with most news snippets these days, news items about the Exchange seem to present an oversimplified version of what is happening there as to reconcile a perceived notion there is a diminished sale of condos in the area. The new condos built on James Street by Streetside Development Corporation were built without a parking stall. For Winnipeggers, given our current mindset, parking is an important aspect when making a decision to buy a condo.
Now, to be fair to Streetside, when they built these condos, the city's parking authority was offering residential parking passes to allow individuals access to street parking. With proof of residency, the Winnipeg Parking Authority provided a pass that allowed residents (with some stipulations) access to street parking for $25 a year. This program is being disbanded as of the end of August. In its place, the parking authority is offering residents a possible solution that would cost $100 a month and allow residents to park on a few side streets in the area but with no guarantee there would be a spot available for them. This additional $1,200 a year is in addition to paying your taxes, condo fees and for most people, mortgages. Let's not forget that not that long ago, these mostly vacant land spaces generated very little revenue for the City of Winnipeg.
The second commitment residents were counting on was the building of a parkade on James Street. Recently, the Winnipeg Free Press reported the City of Winnipeg was no longer looking to build that promised parkade.
One difficulty is the city does not require developers to provide parking for the condos they build. Condos that have parking are more expensive to build. Let it be said the condos in the Exchange that do have parking as part of the purchase price are still selling. The second phase of Sky Waterfront is an example of that. With construction not yet complete, only four condos remain on the market.
CentreVenture's proposal to the City of Winnipeg had numerous other proposals put forth to council that look at long-term solutions and provide the opportunity to enhance the community. However, the news has not concentrated on those initiatives. There is no doubt that long-term Winnipeggers will need to look at becoming a little greener and rely less heavily on cars. It is true that in many cities, citizens who live downtown may not have vehicles, but the infrastructure in those cities is different. They often have many more transportation solutions. From the perspective of a resident of the area looking at the $10,000 incentive, it seems to be a way to assist Streetside to sell condos -- not because the Exchange is not a great place and desirable place to live, but because the city made a few changes to what was offered to residents and prospective residents in the area, making condos without parking even less desirable to future downtown dwellers.
The Exchange is a vibrant and exciting community to live in. The residents play a valuable role in supporting the development and businesses in the area. Last month, there was the excitement of the Fringe Festival, Les Miserables and there is always the Goldeyes. This does not include the numerous patios and restaurants in the area that make downtown living vibrant and exciting. Most evenings and weekends, I park my car and walk everywhere, taking advantage of all the richness of my neighbourhood. There is a Residents of the Exchange (R:ED) group that works hard at building a community for residents through monthly activities as well as organizing a yearly cleanup of the area. The Exchange District is no doubt a cultural hub for the city, with a home to numerous galleries, theatres and venues to enjoy music and diverse foods. Top it off by being within walking distance to The Forks and all that it offers, it is hard to imagine someone being bored living downtown. People cycle, walk and jog in the area, taking in the richness of the architecture in the area.
So, is the $10,000 incentive required to entice people to live in this dynamic and evolving community? I would say not in most circumstances. If the city is serious about continuing to have the Exchange District grow, it will look seriously at an urban development plan that includes parking and transportation issues as well as the provision of an affordable grocery store in the area. Sometimes, for leaders at any level of government, it is difficult to do the right thing. After all, at times the right thing for the long-term growth of our country, province or city is not going to make people happy in the short term. Hopefully, when we look at continued urban development, we can take the politics out of it and concentrate on doing what is right.