Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Downtown visionary sought

Ross McGowan is retiring after eight years at the helm of CentreVenture

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The search is on for a new leader to help champion the ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Winnipeg.

CentreVenture Development Corp. president and CEO Ross McGowan is retiring at the end of December after eight years at the helm of the city's arm's-length downtown development agency.

CentreVenture's board of directors has hired Meyers Norris Penny to lead the search for his replacement, and a large ad for the position will appear in Saturday's Free Press.

Scott Stirton, the board's vice-chairman and head of the selection committee that's working with Meyers Norris Penny, said the plan is to have the new CEO in place before McGowan leaves.

"We want to make sure we don't lose the momentum on a lot of things that are already underway."

'The board has nothing but admiration for Ross as a leader...

His results have been terrific'

Although a number of local candidates are expected to emerge, Stirton said the search committee also expects to hear from some out-of-province applicants.

"Our goal is to look for someone who has a strong affinity and passion for Winnipeg," he added.

Stirton said it was McGowan who decided to pull the plug, not the board.

"The board has nothing but admiration for Ross as a leader... His results have been terrific."

In an interview with the Free Press, the 62-year-old McGowan cited a number of reasons for leaving what he described as the best job he ever had.

"I do love this stuff, and I will always be passionate about our downtown and our city. But everybody has their best before date, and mine is coming," he explained. "I'm also tired of getting up early every morning, and I do want to spend more time being a better father, a better husband and a better grandfather."

He noted that when he joined CentreVenture, he told the board he'd only be staying for five years. But before he knew it, five years turned into eight years.

Those eight years saw a tremendous amount of change in the downtown, with hundreds of new multi-family residential units being built and some of the most-development resistant pockets of the downtown being given a new lease of life.

While the transformation of the downtown is still far from over, McGowan said it's a good time to hand the reins over to a new CEO.

"We're at a stable place. The groundwork is set for many of our large projects, we are in our first year of our three-year business plan. We all know where we are headed," he said. "And the business community has bought in, and the province and the city are onside."

He said some of the first orders of business for his successor will be completing the development of the new Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED) and delivering a new residential grants program aimed at creating more multi-family rental units downtown. A little further down the road is the redevelopment of the stretch of Main Street between Graham Avenue and Broadway.

Asked to name the CentreVenture-led projects he is most proud of, McGowan cited three: the redevelopment of the Union Bank tower at the corner of Main Street and William Avenue, the conversion of Main Street's Bell Hotel into 42 suites for former homeless people and the acquisition of the former A & B Sound building at the corner of Portage Avenue and Donald Street, which led to the redevelopment of much of that square block into the new Centrepoint office/hotel/parkade/condo tower development.

He described the conversion of the long-vacant Union Bank Tower into new hospitality and culinary-arts training schools and a student residence for Red River College as a "city game-changer."

"The Bell (project) showed a development agency could have a kinder, gentler side... in terms of addressing social issues such as homelessness, poverty and mental health," he added.

"And Centrepoint really changed the direction of the downtown and set us on a course of investment, the likes of which we haven't seen in decades."

Asked if he had any regrets, McGowan said, "The only regret might be that we haven't been able to get as much done as we had hoped. But things take time."

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 28, 2014 B7

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Updated on Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 6:44 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds missing text to sidebar

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