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You gotta EAT Blog of the Week

Without grocery stores, downtown revival will fail

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A desperate plea is rising from people downtown and its immediate surroundings. The closing of three grocery stores -- even in neighbourhoods that appear to have housing, such as Notre Dame and on Main Street -- is accelerating.

Recently, the Winnipeg Free Press had a column from a resident of a senior's apartment behind Portage Place who sounded the alarm.

Over the last several months, we have lost the Wagon Wheel, the Paddle Wheel, Zellers, including its grocery store, the youth hostel, the NRC Centre, and several and sundry smaller venues within the Portage Place complex.

We are fast becoming inundated with the losses.

Add to that the Winnipeg Film Group and Gio's nightclub, which announced they are shutting down or moving out last week.

Now, not all of this is negative. The Wagon Wheel makes way for a fairly expansive and innovative mixed use of offices, hotel, parking, restaurants and condos. We can be sad for the end of an era but happy about the possibilities a boutique hotel and condos might bring.

Gio's appears to be making way for some development... possibly apartments. This is a good thing. Gio's has had a few locations over the years. The takeover of its present location was made possible by the closure of a pizza joint and the fact of so much empty land. Hard times made for a good spot to operate and the gay and lesbian community now finds its efforts to bring people downtown have made its property valuable for other urban reclamation projects.

I suspect Gio's will find a way to come back, perhaps to some place along Portage Avenue -- although one blogger suggested the Free Press Café.

The Winnipeg Film Group is also looking to move. Part of it is expansion mode but some is not. This is what appeared in The Uniter:

"... surveys have shown concerns about parking and night-time safety are preventing Winnipeggers from attending screenings."

Nighttime safety. Not good. I don't think theaters-goers for screenings downtown are overly sensitive, either.

Just one more indication that increasing the feeling of safety and security must continue.

It isn't an impossible task. The Forks is generally considered safe and not part of downtown. We need to increase that envelope of security through better lighting, more patrols and better planning.

It is easy to feel insecure and vulnerable if the lighting is poor, sight-lines are awful and where there is little pedestrian traffic.

But back to grocery stores...

We are seeing more people move downtown. Waterfront Drive now boasts a population where none existed five years ago. Hotels are being converted back to apartments and condo conversions are taking place in warehouse space and offices. New apartments are coming as well.

And yet, fewer choices or no choices for grocery stores.

It seems to me if the government ends up having to take over the Bay downtown, it would do well to go out of its freaking way to make sure that a Sobey's Express, a Safeway or any other grocer out there be located in the basement. They would probably love to be in a large government building.

Moreover, perhaps a few restaurants wouldn't mind being in the building at ground floor as well. If and when the Bay takes flight, the worst thing would be if the whole 600,000 square feet becomes government offices and you need to go through security checks just to enter the parkade.

We need grocery stores if urban living is to succeed. Osborne Village is partly the success it is today because it has a large Safeway in the centre of it.

If downtown condos can get a tax break, maybe a large new grocery store can too.

Otherwise, we are going to have a migration out of the urban areas of the city despite the best intentions.

-- John Dobbin blogs at Observations, Reservations and Conversations (johndobbin.blogspot.ca) and Winnipeg Internet Pundits on 101.5 UMFM.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 17, 2013 A10

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