Downtown soaring with the Jets

New development around MTS Centre will be a 'city-changer,' CentreVenture boss promises


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The wrecking ball is about to swing on the Wild Planet building on the north side of Portage Avenue, a demolition project that will kick-start a developmental revolution in downtown Winnipeg.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2011 (4150 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The wrecking ball is about to swing on the Wild Planet building on the north side of Portage Avenue, a demolition project that will kick-start a developmental revolution in downtown Winnipeg.

The now-abandoned building, once home to a busy retailer of rock ‘n’ roll posters and T-shirts and an arcade years before that, will be demolished in the next few weeks. Its razing will be the first tangible sign for Winnipeggers that the much-touted SHED, or sports, hospitality and entertainment district, has moved from the drawing board to reality.

“The rubber is hitting the road,” said Ross McGowan, president of CentreVenture Development Corp., the downtown agency leading the SHED charge.

Once Wild Planet has been levelled, the MTS Centre Exhibition Hall, still known to many as the old A&B Sound building, will be toppled soon after. Construction of a multi-use facility featuring five storeys of retail and office space, topped by a 13- or 14-storey hotel with 154 suites, will begin in the spring.

Doug McKay, director of commercial development at Longboat Development, which is handling construction of the $55-million project, said it takes about six weeks to fully demolish a building. He said Longboat is hoping to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony in late 2013.

Under a plan first unveiled last year, the SHED will encompass an 11-block area of the downtown that includes the MTS Centre, the Winnipeg Convention Centre and the Metropolitan and Burton Cummings theatres.

If everything goes according to McGowan’s admittedly aggressive plan, more than $600-million worth of development will have sprung up just five years from now. That will include a $200-million expansion of the Winnipeg Convention Centre and the redevelopment of two surface parking lots owned by Manitoba Public Insurance — one on Carlton Street between Graham and St. Mary avenues and the other south of St. Mary between Donald and Hargrave streets.

(For clubhouse sandwich and chocolate shake aficionados, McGowan said every effort will be made to ensure the Wagon Wheel restaurant finds a new location before it’s forced next March to vacate its longtime home in the Norlyn Building prior to its demolition.)

Cindy Rodych, vice-president at Stantec, the architect of record for the SHED, described the Carlton Street parking lot as the doughnut hole connecting the area’s two key anchors, the MTS Centre and the Convention Centre.

She said the SHED’s master plan proposes developing the lot into a “vibrant, active, urban and entertainment-focused” destination meeting place for Winnipeggers.

“It’s critical to animate the street and create opportunities for pedestrians to engage with the buildings that are around,” she said.

An expression of interest will be issued for the parking lots within the next few months, according to Marilyn McLaren, president and CEO of MPI. She said its main goal in redeveloping the lots is to increase its revenues so it can continue to keep Autopac insurance rates low. While a central meeting place is certainly one of the options, it’s not the only one, she said. Other possibilities include a continuation of some parking facilities, housing and retail space.

“Anything that exists downtown today is a possibility, or people could come up with ideas that we hadn’t contemplated before,” she said. “Like every other property-owner in downtown Winnipeg, we’re interested in doing what is best for the city and province, consistent with the direction set by CentreVenture.”

Ultimately, McGowan said the SHED plan is nothing less than a “city-changer.”

“It will change the psyche of Winnipeggers and put us on the international map in a similar fashion to what the Jets are doing. Think of television broadcasts on Portage Avenue. What’s the backdrop to our international media exposure? Is it a surface parking lot or is it a vibrant district?”


Portage Place key to plan

Afterr initially being ignored in the early planning of the SHED, the Portage Place Shopping Centre has ultimately become a key element in whether the downtown redevelopment plan succeeds in the long run.

Cindy Rodych, vice-president at Stantec, the architect of record for the SHED, said re-investment in the 24-year-old mall is an absolute must for the overhaul of downtown to be truly complete. The challenge facing downtown malls, she said, is getting the “eyeballs and footfalls” to create revenue, but that’s not possible without convincing more companies to move into the central business district.

But with the recent arrival of Manitoba Hydro’s 2,000 workers to Portage Avenue and a couple more relocations in the offing, including 250 to 300 Stantec employees, it should only be a matter of time, she said. Portage Place’s owners are also considering converting some of its space for office use.

“If the overall office density can reach that tipping point, then the mall becomes extremely viable. We would need another 1,000 workers or so (downtown), and that’s easily achievable,” she said.


Updated on Saturday, November 19, 2011 9:07 AM CST: Adds colour photos, formats text

Updated on Saturday, November 19, 2011 9:59 AM CST: adds video

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