Bigger park, plaza considered for Burton Cummings Theatre
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A larger park, and possibly a plaza, could become a reality if a small part of Smith Street is moved — something supporters expect would add vibrancy to downtown.
If approved, the proposal should add life to the area, said Coun. Janice Lukes.
“We’ve got this beautiful theatre (there) that holds incredible performances and to have parties and festivities spill (outside), it activates the street, it makes it more festive and it gets more people downtown,” said Lukes, chairwoman of council’s public works committee.
A previously funded street renewal project for Smith Street is already underway. The new proposal would change the street’s current alignment between Ellice and Notre Dame Avenues, following a request from True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Burton Cummings Theatre at 364 Smith St.
True North asked the city to move that section of the roadway toward King Street, which city staff now recommends, according to a city report.
If council approves, that would clear the way to expand Odeon Park, which is located in the Smith Street and Notre Dame rights-of-way. It may also “potentially” create a plaza area within the park, the report says.
Lukes said the new design could create more room for outdoor performances, BBQs, festival events and parties.
Smith Street’s current layout between Ellice and Notre Dame avenues includes four traffic lanes split by the existing Odeon Park. Two traffic lanes next to the Burton Cummings Theatre approach the Donald Street intersection, where traffic heads westbound onto Notre Dame Avenue. The two other traffic lanes travel north onto King Street and allow a left turn onto Notre Dame Avenue.
In the new design, the street space immediately in front of the theatre would be closed. Three traffic lanes, including a transit lane, would connect to westbound Notre Dame, and two lanes on the east side of the island would continue north to King Street.
The changes would allow Odeon Park to grow to 970 square metres from about 335 square metres, replacing some former road space.
Lukes believes the changes would simplify traffic, not delay it.
“I think it makes better traffic flow… We’ve got a bike lane on Notre Dame Avenue and (this plan) creates less conflict by realigning the roads and the intersections… (This is) kind of one of those ‘confusion corner’ intersections (at present). This is cleaning that up,” she said.
A traffic analysis found the changes would improve safety for all modes of traffic and accommodate transit improvements, said city spokesman Ken Allen, in an email.
The changes to the previously funded street renewal project are expected to cost about $400,000, which can be covered within the existing street renewal budget.
Future park enhancements could be funded by federal gas tax funds, the report notes.
True North will create a conceptual design for the park/potential plaza and the city will add “basic” landscaping in the meantime, if the street changes are approved, according to the city report.
A True North official was not available for an interview Wednesday.
A downtown advocate said the final plans may include improved seating, lighting and sight lines to spruce up the “under-utilized” green space, possibly with a source of electricity to support musical events.
“It will actually increase the size of the park that’s in there right now… (to) three times the public space that we can program, we can hold events, that people can gather (in),” said Kate Fenske, chief executive officer of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.
Fenske said the project is part of a broader effort to rejuvenate Winnipeg’s downtown following the pandemic and make it more attractive for folks to visit.
“There’s been infrastructure in our downtown that has been neglected and this is trying to come back from that and really putting that commitment and that investment into our public spaces for people,” she said.
“It will actually increase the size of the park that’s in there right now… (to) three times the public space that we can program, we can hold events, that people can gather (in).”–Kate Fenske, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ
The BIZ is expected to maintain Odeon Park for the city after the update is completed.
The city report notes there could be opposition to one element of the changes, which would close a private approach to a parking lot at 370 Smith St. and replace it with an approach off Donald Street. The owner of the parking lot has verbally opposed the closure but hasn’t confirmed the objection in writing, the report says.
The changes, which council’s public works committee will debate on Feb. 7, would require full council approval.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.