Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Downtown or bust

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A 2008 downtown-revitalization strategy that is causing a fuss at city hall because it was never made public didn't really make a significant contribution to the city's understanding of the challenge.

The report said the city should subsidize new housing construction, rather than the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings, which is much more expensive. In fact, there is a significant number of new buildings along Waterfront Drive and in the Chinatown district where most of the vacant space is located.

If no incentives were given to heritage restoration, the city would be stuck with even more underused warehouses at risk of crumbling from neglect. The city should probably have doubled the subsidies for heritage-building conversions, since the existing grants didn't come close to bridging the gap between the cost of new construction in the suburbs and the cost of renovating older buildings.

In any event, the real problem is there are not enough people and enough money to revitalize the downtown and the Exchange District within a short period of time. There's nothing new about the fact downtown revitalization is a long-term endeavour, unlike the experience of cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, which haven't had any problems developing their core districts.

The city's latest focus on neighbourhood improvements is the right course, but the proposed incentives for condo buyers would be better invested in creating places where people will feel comfortable and safe.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 29, 2013 A8

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