Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Downtown 'dust bowl' won't feed residents

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We need to have a new grocery store installed within the downtown area, preferably attached to the skywalk, but there are other larger issues at play here.

We need some clear directional focus from the Downtown Biz, CentreVenture, Economic Development Winnipeg and city council. These are the agencies that should be held accountable for the transparency of city redevelopment and upkeep.

There are approximately 73,000 daytime residents in downtown Winnipeg -- 16,000 permanent residents, 17,000 workers and 40,000 students. These numbers do not include dramatic upswings of thousands during concerts, hockey games and special events.

As a faction of these residents within the parameters of downtown, the Fred Douglas Place Residents Association finds itself exposed to a cloud of hidden agendas, masked digression, and lack of fundamental comprehensibility in regard to downtown sustainability and future planning.

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.

When we inquire about our present status, we are fed misguiding and misleading information and shown a lack of interest in our plight.

We have contacted all of the above named agencies as well as the city's economic department and have been shuttled around without any plausible or realistic plan for their involvement, or a solution to downtown's ineffective action plan.

It looks like the alleged cone of silence is being drawn around these issues. The critical tipping point for the Portage Place mall is quickly coming to a head, with more stores pulling out than taking residence.

"Winnipeg will never become a major urban area, however, without a vibrant commercial shopping area at the heart of the city," Charles Huband said in the Free Press last spring. "The only way that can happen in the foreseeable future is through the revitalization of the downtown Bay store as the catalyst for urban shopping.

"If $7 million is available to establish a water park, there should be significantly more available to restore downtown shopping."

The new hotel being built will add temporary guests, but that will not sustain local businesses without "on the ground" residents to back them up. It presently seems to be a downward spiral.

With the way things are going, Portage Place soon will be a mostly vacant building with perhaps Canada Services, a few stores and the always maligned food court.

The addition of the new casino along the walkway might bring in new customers, but they won't have any change left after they visit, and will not be concerned about a food store.

The hard work of the Downtown Biz needs a little tweaking. City council needs to step up to the plate with any and all creative ideas, as well as backing their words with financial incentives.

Does Mayor Sam Katz care anymore about the downtown area?

Something has to be done, even if it's only a press release explaining what in reality is happening, and where is the proposed plan to make things improve.

I am beginning to see a new "dust bowl" around the downtown area, and that ain't good.

The pervasive feel is that everyone has given up and the cards are left to fall where they may.

As I stated at the beginning of this missive, I am interested in having a functional grocery store in the downtown, but I feel the dam of complacency is about to crack.

I'm sure some bright business group is in the wings in need of a new grocery chain endeavour. I am just unsure who this will be.

The absence of a grocery store is fast becoming a major concern for the local residents. There is crisis brewing in the middle of the city.


Bob Roddy is a member of the Fred Douglas Place Residents Association.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2013 A11

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