In the past, I've felt somewhat sympathetic to and supportive of the role that CentreVenture plays in the development of Winnipeg's downtown. Though I don't always agree with the type of development that CentreVenture champions for the inner-city, I feel that its overall impact on the core area has been positive.
CentreVenture has been a major player in downtown development for close to 15 years now. There is more optimism and vitality today than there was in 1999 when the public-private corp. got its first mandate for the "economic, physical and social rebirth of Winnipeg's downtown" from city council.
Balancing the social and economic needs of any neighbourhood is a tricky business. CentreVenture's involvement in the re-purposing of the Bell Hotel seemed to me an indication that at the very least, their hearts could be in the right place. After listening to CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan's remarks aired on CBC Information Radio Friday morning, I now feel as if I've been a bit naive.
I can't find a tape of the interview on CBC radio's online archives, so I'll have to paraphrase.
McGowan likened drunks and aggressive panhandlers downtown to ill-mannered children who were not welcome to sit around the dining room table with the adults. In his opinion, they should be sent down to the rec room in the basement where their behaviour would be less disruptive. He also boasted of the recent success of shutting down the bar at the St. Regis Hotel and is now in discussion with the MLCC to move the Ellice Avenue liquor mart to a "more strategic location."
It's not enough that there's a food desert in the inner-city, McGowan is now fighting for a booze desert, too. If you're too poor to afford a beer at Tavern United, then you're not responsible enough to purchase alcohol downtown.
It seems that CentreVenture's "social consciousness" now amounts to sweeping poverty under the rug, or to the basement if you like. The CBC interviewer didn't think to ask McGowan where that "basement" might be, but clearly it won't be anywhere near Portage Avenue and the SHED if McGowan has his way.
The social rebirth that McGowan seems to have in mind for the downtown has nothing to do with actually addressing the issues of poverty, addiction or racism in our city. Rather, he is openly advocating for the simple removal of undesirable elements from our downtown so that we can all feel safe and happy flooding in and out of the MTS Centre before-and-after Jets games.
In response to comments I made in my last post, the issue arose as to what, if any, social responsibility does CentreVenture bear in its role as a downtown development agency? Damn fine question.
How does CentreVenture best meet the social needs of the downtown area? Riverman's comments to my post essentially nailed home how they plan to do it, by "getting bums to move from there."
My problem with this strategy is that it inevitably passes on the real problems to other neighbourhoods and other agencies. It also reflects poorly on our willingness to actually address the problems of poverty, addiction and racism that do exist in this city.
In the past, with the closures of the Bell Hotel and the New Occidental, the former dens of vice were replaced with institutions that offered support services, training and second chances. It wasn't simply a question of sweeping a problem aside, it was an attempt to offer solutions.
In his recent interview on CBC, Ross McGowan did not give any indications that offering support or alternatives for those being displaced was still on the menu of options being considered by CentreVenture in its efforts to build up the SHED. Hopefully I'm wrong. It wasn't just the nature of his comments, but the way in which they were delivered that has led me to harsh skepticism.
I also feel that shutting down the Ellice Avenue MLCC is counterproductive to the revitalization of the Central Park and Exchange neighbourhoods that rely on that particular branch to meet their wine and spirits needs. Shuttering hotels that are in constant violation of the Liquor Act is one thing, relocating government-run-and-staffed liquor stores is quite another. It amounts to an effort to prohibit the legal sale of alcohol by trained government employees to the adult population of a specific neighbourhood.
Is it fair to those who drink responsibly that their Liquor Mart be shuttered or relocated elsewhere according the whims of a development agency that should in theory be representing their needs? I'd like to hear from area residents in regards to the potential closure of that Liquor Mart. I wonder how many would be supportive and how many wouldn't?
Ekimsharpe lives in Winnipeg, loves Half-Pints beer, the river-trail and the music of local musician Grant Davidson (who is a very talented and lazy man). He is frustrated by the lack of late-night shawarma in Winnipeg.
Follow him at http://thecoldcoldground.blogspot.ca/