A make-over is planned for Main Street between Portage Avenue and Broadway.
The city’s downtown development agency, CentreVenture, says it’s time to turn some of its energies on that four-block stretch of roadway: Finding development projects for the east side of the street that consists mostly of surface parking lots; and exploring ways to improve access to The Forks and link developments.
"We felt it was important to start at having a look at the development opportunities there," Ross McGowan, CentreVenture’s CEO said.
Main Street is one of the major gateways into the downtown, McGowan said, adding CentreVenture wanted to examine the streetscape potential and possible scale of any new developments.
The string of surface parking lots along the east side of Main between St. Mary and Broadway should be developed, he said, with projects that complement what will take place in The Forks.
"Our approach is to do it in collaboration and consultation with the building owners," McGowan said, adding he would not want to see any high-rise towers but thought buildings of four- to six-stories in height as appropriate.
The west side of Main is a mixture of the historic and the new, including: Winnipeg Square, Humphry Inn and Suites, the Wawanesa Life Building (formerly the home of Sport Manitoba), and CDI College at the corner of Graham Avenue and Main.
Prominent in the middle of the stretch are three historic buildings just south of St. Mary Avenue: The Fortune Block (home to the iconic Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club, the MacDonald Block and the Winnipeg Hotel.
Wayne Towns, who owns the Winnipeg Hotel and MacDonald Block, said the area is prime for development.
"With the human rights museum ready to open, this area is ripe for development," Towns said, adding he has no plans for development but is willing to listen to offers.
John Scoles, who owns the Times Change(d) club, but not the building, said he’d like to see the neighbouring historic buildings preserved to add variety to the streetscape.
"It’s important to have some heritage element to this strip," Scoles said, adding he supports development that brings vibrancy to the area.
McGowan singled out what Scoles has done with his club as a local success story and Scoles said others should follow his example.
"I’d like to see more business that isn’t franchised, things that are unique and independent," Scoles said, adding he also wants to see the parking lots across the street developed in a way that will lure people to the area.
"We’re bringing people downtown and we keep them coming," Scoles said. "This is the kind of thing that entices people to live downtown."
McGowan said a landscape architectural firm has been hired to do some preliminary conceptual drawings, adding the development area would extend west to Fort Street.
Proposals include elevated entrances to The Forks, over the CN Rail line, in addition to enhancements to the York Avenue entrance and the underpass at Union Station.
There might be options for entrances of Pioneer Avenue and East Portage, he said.
"It’s always healthy to think outside the box," McGowan said. "We’ll see how the study progresses."
McGowan said he expects to have a conceptual proposal ready for council’s consideration by September.
The Main Street focus is part of CentreVenture’s 2014-2016 business plan, which was endorsed by executive policy committee at its meeting this morning.
McGowan said CentreVenture – which is marking its 15th anniversary this month – will continue to work on the downtown SHED (sports, hospitality and entertainment district) surrounding the MTS Centre; the continued redevelopment and revitalization along downtown Portage Avenue; encouraging residential development in the downtown and exchange areas.
The business plan states that between 2010-2013, 88 condominium units and 324 rents until were constructed, with another 1,070 condo units and 170 rental units under construction or in the planning stages.
Meanwhile, McGowan said he expects a major announcement will be made within a few months about a new hotel development on the site of the former Carlton Inn, which has been demolished.
McGowan said CentreVenture owns the property and had the old hotel demolished. He said the property is being prepared for development, adding that whatever expense that operation costs will be applied to the sale price.