Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

An artsy arts district

Curtain soon to rise on Market Avenue upgrade

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After a summer of churned-up pavement and orange blockades on Market Avenue, the plain street that runs off Main Street down the middle of the arts district is getting its promised facelift. The infrastructure is pretty much done.

"Whew," say downtown drivers.

"Hooray" say the waiting arts groups.

"It's an eclectic and artistic look done in conjunction with Moment Factory out of Montreal, which did the halftime show for the Super Bowl with Madonna," says CentreVenture's Ross McGowan.

"They do lighting design, so we engaged them to come up with a unique concept for the district. They lit the Parliament buildings in Ottawa and work all over the world. They're a team of people who come out of Cirque de Soleil -- a very creative bunch. They can make a major event out of lights." (Moment Factory's saucy website advertises: "We do it in public. We do it in the street. We do it between walls.")

So, here's what they're doing in Winnipeg: Picture multi-coloured stained-glass kites lighting the way down Market along with upgraded sidewalks and seating areas and a half dozen more trees on the Centennial Centre lot to add to the 14 to 16 trees already there. This lighted area will be the gateway to all of the arts centres in the district. Within a one-block area, you can catch shows at the Pantages, the Centennial Concert Hall, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, the Tom Hendry Warehouse and the planetarium.

The theatre season hasn't quite started yet, but the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's season is already underway and executive director Trudy Schroeder says the construction "wreaked havoc" this summer -- but for a great cause. "It's a good thing that both CentreVenture and the City of Winnipeg came to the realization there really is a distinct cultural district in Winnipeg.

"This year, Market Avenue came up for having the street redone, so CentreVenture made a proposal to the City of Winnipeg we that should have different streetscaping amenities to make it a special district -- spend a little money to create an ambiance, since they were redoing pipes and wiring anyway."

She says she's looking forward to the finished product, including the futuristic lights, lights projected on the buildings, and changes to the walking patterns on the street, with curbs and lanes added to make it easier to drop off passengers. Schroeder says she's also looking forward to seeing the parking lot between RMTC and the Pantages hidden behind an attractive barrier, "like scrap-metal material -- something artistic."

"What we're trying to do is create a unified theatre district using the streetscaping," says McGowan. The first unifying part of Market from Main to Lily, is the lights in the trees like kites coming down." Phase 2 will carry on down Lily Street from the RMTC main doors, and Phase 3 will see James Street renovated between Lily and Waterfront Drive. The decorated path will zigzag all the way from Main Street to Waterfront, creating a showy main drag for the arts district of Winnipeg.

"Anything that will improve the lighting and attractiveness of this area is a good thing," says RMTC general manager Camilla Holland. "We have a picture in the lobby of what it's going to look like."

Meanwhile the biggest pain in the butt -- the streets and sidewalks under construction -- will be over in a few weeks. "The dry September weather has really helped," says Holland. "We haven't had an MTC production yet, but we open Oct. 18 and we've been told the street will be completed, although the sidewalk completion is a question.

"We had David Suzuki here recently and patrons didn't have too much parking trouble at that point. But we've been telling people to add an extra five minutes for parking and to try to park south of us up to Portage and Main."

McGowan admits there have been all kinds of obstacles to completing the arts district project, and there will be more to come, but he's not worried.

"Everything's a problem downtown, but that doesn't mean we can't do it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 7, 2012 $sourceSection0

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