Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bold undertaking for U of M

Expansion to include housing, river paths

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It sounds so idyllic.

More than 6,000 people living in a variety of housing scattered amid expansive green space, connected by walking trails and bike paths, with birds everywhere.

Never-before-seen easy access to kilometre upon kilometre of the Red River's banks, with boardwalks, docks, a marina, maybe restaurants, maybe even a bridge.

A new rapid-transit station would use a new access route to the campus, otherwise restricted to pedestrians and bicycles, that would acquaint Pembina Highway with the notion there should be no barriers between the city and the enormous University of Manitoba.

The U of M is launching an international design competition that will culminate in October 2013 in a plan chosen to transform the former Southwood golf course owned by the university -- its 48 hectares now known as the U of M's Southwood precinct -- and the Fort Garry campus.

"It's an intention to ask the whole planning process to focus on the river," U of M president David Barnard said Wednesday.

"As a community, we most often see the river as a barrier," too often out of sight and mind, he said.

"There are places on this campus, you can not be very far away from the river, and not even know it," Barnard said.

The competition criteria specify the riverbank be made accessible, winding from a few blocks south of Bishop Grandin Boulevard all the way to the southern edge of the campus opposite Drake Hall and the new student residence.

There could even potentially be the long-discussed crossing to connect the campus and St. Vital.

"That's an idea that's been around in various forms. It's an interesting idea," Barnard said.

Leaving the golf course simply as green space would create a barrier between the U of M and the rest of the community, he said.

Instead, the university sees student housing and housing for the general public, maybe condominiums, scattered in Southwood.

"We certainly have a need for additional student housing," Barnard said.

Meanwhile, despite lengthy frontage on Pembina Highway that's being extended by the edges of the golf course, the university is set back well from the road. "When you come down Pembina Highway, U of M has a sign on the highway," he pointed out.

The design plan will encompass both the east and west sides of the campus, using the entire property to show its connection with the community, the president said.

And there will be rapid transit -- the U of M has to emphasize pedestrian, bicycle and transit access over the car, he said.

"It makes sense to have easy transit access to the stadium," he said.

"There's no plan to put parking contiguous to the stadium on the north side," where the new stadium is shoulder to shoulder with the former golf course land.

Anything that's developed will be environmentally responsible, Barnard emphasized.

The first plan will be conceptual -- after that will come a financial plan. "Certainly, public-private partnerships are a real option on this land," he said.

The initial work should start within the next few years, but Barnard said with a laugh he hopes to be around to see it all finally complete:

"Whatever the concept is, it will take decades," he said.

David Barnard's vision:

"Taking ownership of the Southwood precinct offers a chance for the University of Manitoba to transform the entire Fort Garry campus and how people think about it. It is a rare opportunity to do something unique and transformative; to be aggressively sustainable in our thinking as we integrate the future development of the existing campus space with Southwood's 120 acres, to allow for the future needs of the university while developing a vibrant interface with the community, in the form of a new, sustainable, multi-use neighbourhood. We see the potential for our campus community as a whole to become a 24/7 live/work/learn/play environment, shaped by five goals and guiding principles: connected, destination, sustainable, community, transformative. We will move away from being a commuter campus toward a vibrant campus community destination."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2012 B1

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