Both leading candidates for the mayor's job agree on at least one thing: There are too many surface parking lots in downtown Winnipeg and they are having a negative effect on the city.
In addition to being an ugly blight, they create pedestrian dead zones and serve as magnets for crime, contributing to the sense that downtown is not safe. They also tell visitors Winnipeg is not growing and that no one wants to invest in its most valuable real estate.
Mayor Sam Katz and rival Judy Wasylycia-Leis are both proposing incentives to encourage development, although Ms. Wasylycia-Leis has yet to define them, and they both believe the city should build mixed-use parkades.
The mayor wants to spend part of the $24 million the city earned from the sale of the Winnipeg Square parkade to upgrade other city-owned parkades and invest the rest in at least three new mixed-use parking structure. His rival is proposing to spend all the money on four parkades that would also have multiple uses on the first and second floors.
The idea of building a series of strategically placed multiple-use parkades in the downtown might be reasonable. As the mayor noted, retail loves traffic and Winnipeggers like to park where they shop, so the idea of mixed-use parkades seems strong, although Ms. Wasylycia-Leis's suggestion that arts groups or apartments could be part of such a complex carries the concept too far.
Furthermore, while there is an apparent surplus of surface parking in some areas of the downtown, there's a shortage or a looming shortage in others, notably the Exchange District and The Forks.
The problem with both plans, however, is that either the city or the Winnipeg Parking Authority would be the developer. Bad idea. The city and its agencies might have experience at handing out parking tickets and managing parkades, but operating a mixed-use development is another matter.
The city would be wiser to offer cash incentives, in addition to tax breaks, to the private sector, which is the best group to determine the needs of the marketplace. Such a program could be managed by CentreVenture Development Corp. to ensure that the interests of the downtown, the public and business are all satisfied.