Key downtown development organization looking for new boss Mathieson leaves post as CentreVenture CEO after eight years, optimistic city can overcome troubling social issues in the core
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Angela Mathieson is stepping down as CEO of CentreVenture Development Corp. after eight years at the helm of the downtown development organization.
Her decision comes with the organization at a crossroads, with a newly elected mayor in office — which typically means a revised mandate — and the city halfway through a three-year downtown recovery strategy.
Although Mathieson said she believes Winnipeg’s downtown is in better shape than it was 20 years ago, the post-pandemic reality involves social issues unlike anything experienced in the past.
She has agreed to stay on for another six months during the search for her replacement, likely injecting a helping of thoughtful optimism.
“There are a lot of challenges that we are facing as a downtown but I don’t want people to get caught in the malaise of it,” she said, noting that when CentreVenture was formed in 1999, there was no downtown arena or Canadian Museum for Human Rights or Waterfront Drive.
“People were despondent then, but it reminds us we have to take a little bit of a longer view when you face big challenges, like how to bring back downtown following the pandemic. I say to people, ‘We have been there. We can overcome it,’” she said.
The former cabinet secretary and assistant deputy minister of urban strategic initiatives for the province in Gary Doer’s NDP governments, Mathieson has been involved in downtown development activities for about 20 years.
More than $1.2 billion worth of downtown development activity has happened during her tenure at CentreVenture.
While True North Square was already underway when she arrived at the organization, her collaborative spirit — and enviable Rolodex — helped flesh out a lot of key projects.
The largest one still on CentreVenture’s books is the Market Lands project on the site of the old Public Safety Building.(From left to right) Jackson Brandt, former mayor Brian Bowman and Angela Mathieson look at designs for the redevelopment of the Public Safety Building and Civic Parkade lands.
“While it is still to be developed, I don’t know if it would have got this far without her experience and expertise leading the way,” said Kate Fenske, CEO of the Downtown BIZ.
“She has an incredible breadth of knowledge that she has brought to downtown development.”
In addition to Market Lands, Mathieson takes particular pride in her role in a couple of smaller developments, including the Carriage Works apartment building on Princess Avenue, where CentreVenture developed a business plan for a potential buyer of that property, as well as securing a permanent home for Ace Art Inc.’s gallery at street level.
A Calgary developer’s housing project currently under construction on Waterfront Drive was made possible because of Mathieson’s diligence in assembling the land and partnering with a couple of small landowners who had no previous real estate development experience.
“I love Angela and I wish her well, but it is a sad day for the organization,” said CentreVenture board chair Brent Bellamy.
“Hopefully, whatever the new mandate is for CentreVenture, we will be able to find someone to fill her shoes. She will be missed, for sure.”
Mathieson is not concerned about that, nor is she concerned about the city’s ability to overcome current challenges downtown.
“What is great about Winnipeg is that we have a lot of tried and tested strategies,” she said, referring to a lengthy history of collaborations among governments, the private sector and organizations such as CentreVenture that have created numerous amenities, including The Forks.
She’s looking forward to what’s about to happen at Market Lands, where CentreVenture and the University of Winnipeg Renewal Corp. are joining forces.
“In my opinion, that is going to be a great story for the next decade,” she said.
Mathieson said she intends to return to consulting on urban-development issues, which is what she did before taking the CentreVenture job.
“I’ve been very fortunate to preside over the organization for the past eight years during a time when it has been involved in an incredible amount of development,” she said.
“But there is no escaping the fact that the pandemic has had a challenging impact on downtown and the organization still has a lot of work to do.”
“But there is no escaping the fact that the pandemic has had a challenging impact on downtown and the organization still has a lot of work to do.”–Angela Mathieson
For example, there is pressure to transform more surface parking lots and some underutilized heritage buildings, she said.
“We have some plans in place but I think it would take a new leader to take all those things to fruition,” she said.
“For me, I’m looking forward to working with organizations on community-impact projects. I’ve learned a lot in my career and I think I can help other organizations make a difference in the community.”
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Tuesday, January 17, 2023 9:20 PM CST: Minor edits