It won't make holiday shopping any easier this year, but the City of Winnipeg plans to throw more money at Polo Park traffic infrastructure in an effort to ease congestion in 2013 and 2014.
On Thursday, Mayor Sam Katz offered a sneak peek at next year's infrastructure-spending blueprint by promising to spend an additional $10 million on Polo Park-area traffic congestion.
As early as the end of January, when the Winnipeg Football Club moves out of Canad Inns Stadium and into its new home at Investors Group Field at the University of Manitoba, the city will have $20 million to spend on Polo Park traffic infrastructure.
This cash comes from the $30.25-million sale of the 10-hectare Canad Inns Stadium site to a partnership between Polo Park mall owner Cadillac Fairview and Shindico Realty. The remaining $10 million will cover the city's $7.5-million commitment to Investors Group Field and a $2.5-million pledge toward U of M recreation improvements.
Katz, however, promised to earmark an additional $10 million in the 2013 and 2014 capital budgets for the Polo Park neighbourhood, surmising the cash could be used to widen Empress Street, extend St. Matthews Avenue west from St. James Street or improve the St. James-Ellice Avenue intersection.
"We have long known congestion is an issue," said the mayor, who first asked the province to help pay for Polo Park traffic improvements in 2009.
Precisely how the money will be spent remains up in the air. The city's public works department plans to consider its options early in 2013 and make a decision by the spring, said St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, whose ward includes Polo Park.
The city's options are limited by a number of geographic factors. For starters, Empress Street cannot be extended to the east without encroaching on Omand's Creek. Despite its ditch-like appearance, the creek is one of Winnipeg's eight navigable waterways and serves as fish habitat all the way from Brookside Cemetery to the Assiniboine River.
Widening any other street or extending St. Matthews to the west would require property acquisitions or expropriations that could quickly eat up a $30-million traffic-improvement budget. On the plus side, Polo Park property owners may be eager to part with slices of their parking lots if the move allows the city to create new lanes.
The city may simply opt to replace traffic signals and create new turning lanes and storage lanes at key intersections in the Polo Park area.
"You can buy an awful lot with $30 million if you're making traffic-signal improvements," public works director Brad Sacher said.
The city would conduct the work over two years to minimize the disruption in the area and avoid compounding any congestion issues resulting from the redevelopment of the Canad Inns Stadium site.
Cadillac Fairview and Shindico have a plan in place to build a Target store at the northwest corner of the stadium site. Demolition of the stadium itself can not begin until the Winnipeg Football Club moves out, Shindico development manager Bob Downs said.
The proposed Target store would constitute the first phase of the stadium redevelopment, whose property taxes will also be used to cover part of the $190-million cost of building Investors Group Field. The second phase will be a mixed-use development of some sort, likely including retailers, office space and a hotel, Downs said.
The original plan to redevelop Canada Inns Stadium called for a residential component. But Downs said it does not appear likely there will be residential apartments at the site, which falls within a special zoning area that covers land near Richardson International Airport.
Easing traffic congestion could increase sales for retailers in Polo Park, as Downs surmised some Winnipeggers avoid the area during peak shopping periods such as Saturdays because of the traffic congestion.
There is a precedent for government spending to benefit the retail sector. As an incentive for IKEA to open up shop in Winnipeg, the city and province pledged to spend a combined $22 million on infrastructure in the vicinity of Sterling Lyon Parkway and Kenaston Boulevard.
In that case, IKEA Canada and developer Fairweather Properties conducted $26.5 million worth of infrastructure work up front, to be paid back with the help of property taxes.
WHAT WOULD $30 MILLION GET US? Potential traffic improvements in the Polo Park area
Extend St. Matthews Avenue
Mayor Sam Katz has proposed an extension of St. Matthews west to Century Street. Such a move would require property acquisitions.
Katz has proposed improvements to the intersection of St. James Street and Ellice Avenue. Such a move would also require the city to acquire strips of property for turning or storage lanes.
Widening Empress Street
Another Katz suggestion. There's room on the west side to take private property, but Omand's Creek limits any widening to the east.
Create one-way streets
On winnipegfreepress.com, readers suggested making Empress Street a northbound one-way street, while St. James Street could be one-way southbound.
Don't spend the money at all
Other online readers opined developers should bear the cost of any infrastructure improvements.