July 24, 2017

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'Hidden gem' gets polish

Exchange District unveils $14 million renewal effort

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Widened sidewalks, greater tree coverage, new lighting and innovative drainage are some hallmarks of the improvements in the Exchange District.</p></p>

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Widened sidewalks, greater tree coverage, new lighting and innovative drainage are some hallmarks of the improvements in the Exchange District.

The results of a multi-year, $14-million renewal effort in the northeast Exchange District were unveiled Thursday during a public walking tour through the neighbourhood.

The retrofit of the area features a number of innovative, environmentally sustainable designs that reflect local history.

"A revitalized downtown is a downtown that our citizens want to live in, want to work in and want to come down and have some fun in," said Mayor Brian Bowman.

"We’re building that downtown. We’re strengthening it each and every day through projects like the one we’re highlighting here today."

The project was a collaborative effort by the city and CentreVenture, a local development corporation established in 1999 to serve as an arm’s-length agency of the city.

Funding for the project was also provided by the province through the Exchange Waterfront Neighbourhood Development Program.

Extensive improvements were made to Elgin Avenue, Market Avenue, Pacific Avenue, Bertha Street, Rorie Street, Lily Street and John Hirsch Place as part of the initiative.

"The neighbourhood is definitely transforming, but we need more," Brent Bellamy, chairman of CentreVenture’s board of directors said.

"We’ve established some beachheads in these areas, but now we need to bring renewal to wider swaths of downtown. Getting more people living here is key."

John Hirsch Place east of Main Street in the Exchange District, once the site of a short spur rail line, is now home to a drainage design pilot that will capture rainwater to irrigate the trees lining the street.

Pedestrian lighting has either been established or enhanced in order to increase security at night.

A number of art installations reflecting the neighbourhood’s history were integrated into the design.

Roughly 130 new trees have been planted throughout the area, which features fresh streetscaping and widened sidewalks.

At the turn of the century, only a few hundred people lived in the Exchange District. Since then, more than 1,000 new residential units have been built, Bellamy said, adding CentreVenture hopes to increase the overall downtown residential population to 20,000 over the next few years.

He highlighted the fact a $9-million government investment to build a road in the area years ago has lead to almost $250 million worth of investment in the east Exchange District since.

"I live on this block, so I’ve been watching the work unfold," said John Giavedoni, executive director for the Residents of the Exchange District.

"I think it’s marvellous. It’s phenomenal what they’ve done. It looks gorgeous with the new lighting and paving stones and plants. It was a hidden gem before, but they’ve really polished the gem."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Friday, July 7, 2017 at 8:25 AM CDT: Adds photo

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