It’s even bigger and bolder than was first envisioned, and on Wednesday the “transformative” True North Square development in downtown Winnipeg took another giant step towards becoming a reality.

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This article was published 24/2/2016 (2043 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s even bigger and bolder than was first envisioned, and on Wednesday the "transformative" True North Square development in downtown Winnipeg took another giant step towards becoming a reality.

About 130 of the city’s movers and shakers packed into a third-floor room in the downtown MTS Centre Wednesday morning to hear the latest details of the $400-million mixed-used development that will soon begin taking shape on two surface lots on either side of Carlton Street between Graham and St. Mary avenues.

The invited guests were told excavation work is already underway for the two-level, 230-stall, heated underground parkade that will be built on the east side half of the development. They were told the first office/retail tower, referred to as Tower 1, should be ready for occupancy by the summer of 2018, and that the entire project should be completed by late 2019.

The local media had stolen some of True North Sports & Entertainment’s thunder by reporting in the past week that Vancouver-based Sutton Place Hotels would build and manage the 275-room luxury hotel that will be part of development, and that one of the city’s largest law firms — Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP — would be an anchor tenant in one of the two office towers. It turns out it will be taking the top three floors in the 17-storey Tower 1 building.

But True North had a couple of other surprises up its sleeve, including the revelation that one of the city’s oldest and most prominent businesses — James Richardson & Sons, Limited — is now a 50 per cent equity partner in the project. Also that Scotiabank, will be another anchor tenant in Tower 1, and have its name atop the building, and Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries will be opening a "flagship liquor mart" in the retail podium for that building.

Richardson & Sons president and CEO Hartley Richardson said in an interview the company, which played a major role in the development of the Portage-and-Main area with the construction of its own high-rise office tower in 1969, is thrilled to also be a participant in True North Square.

"We felt this was going to be a transformational project for downtown Winnipeg and the city centre and we wanted to be part of providing a solution rather than sitting on the sidelines," Richardson said. "We see this as being as important as the development of Portage and Main a generation ago. This is a new sense of commitment to the downtown."

Another new wrinkle is the announcement that True North Square will now boast four high-rise towers instead of three. Also, that two of the towers, not just one, will have a large residential component. Not only will Sutton Place be building a 17-storey, 130-unit condominium tower next to its 27-storey hotel on the west side of Carlton Street, but the 24-storey second tower on the east side will also include 145 residential units, along with a mix of office and retail space.

"It will be a hybrid kind of boutique building" similar to ones in Toronto and Vancouver, explained Jim Ludlow, president of True North Real Estate Development Ltd., the True North company that is the developer for the project.

But while there have been some significant changes to the plans that were unveiled last year, a number of other key elements remain unchanged. One is the inclusion of a large, public plaza/parkway which will stretch from the northwest corner of Graham and Hargrave to almost the corner of Carlton and St. Mary Avenue.

"This (the public plaza) will be the exciting part of the project," Ludlow told the assembled guests.

Another is the inclusion of a series of enclosed skywalks connecting the four towers and providing another weather-protected link between Cityplace and the RBC Convention Centre. Like the plaza, the skywalks will be considered part of the public domain, Ludlow said, although it hasn’t been determined yet whether portions of them will run through some of the privately-owned buildings in the development, such as the Sutton Place Hotel, or be built on the outside of them.

While some have expressed concerns that building two more Class A office towers will create a glut of space in the downtown and siphon tenants away from the three high-rise towers at Portage and Main, Richardson said that’s not a concern for him.

"I think there is going to be room for everybody," he said. "People are going to choose to be at Portage and Main for different reasons and (other people) will chose to be here. And it’s great that we’ll be able to accommodate both of those needs."

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he was pleased to hear about Wednesday’s formal announcement but added he was unaware of the details as he had been at council meeting all day.

"From what I’ve been able to see from the coverage, it’s a very exciting project for our downtown and I’m looking forward to seeing a $400-million investment in our downtown," he told reporters Wednesday afternoon.