Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/7/2011 (3430 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network broke the national story about Bruce Carson, a former senior aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in March, it was just one example of the Winnipeg-based network's coming of age.
Another more physical manifestation will be a stunning new redesign and expansion of its Portage Avenue headquarters, hopefully starting this fall.
Late last year, its original head office and studio building at 339 Portage Ave., along with the building next door, a former CIBC branch at 333 Portage Ave., were purchased by the network.
This fall, APTN's board is expected to make a final decision on the redevelopment of both buildings into a seamless, 43,000-square-foot production and administrative centre.
APTN's expansion and the creation of a statement presence that includes the redevelopment of a formerly vacant bank building on Portage Avenue is significant in light of the just-announced $75-million Longboat redevelopment of the Donald Street corner.
With all the projects now in the hopper, a historic milestone is about to be reached: no more boarded-up storefronts on Portage Avenue.
Jean LaRose, APTN's chief executive officer, is well aware of the new momentum on the street that his organization is now part of.
"Portage Avenue is quickly taking on new life," LaRose said.
"I get a sense with this sudden surge of civic pride with the Jets coming back and everything else that what we are going to see is people who were reluctant to do anything downtown and were sitting on property might now see that there is a reason to do something."
LaRose was not able to discuss many of the details of the planned development because it still needs board approval.
"We're going to design it in a way, as much as we can afford to, to make it green," said LaRose. "The idea is to blend both buildings into one entity that will have a specific and unique look to it. People looking at it will have a sense that the building has been designed by and for aboriginal people."
The dramatic look of the preliminary design would fit into the broader development hopes of various parties trying to figure out the right mix for Portage Avenue.
"The vacancy rate on Portage Avenue right now is probably below the normal vacancy rate in other retail areas," said Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.
"But our vision goes beyond all the storefronts filled. We want a strong mixed-use corridor that's busy seven days a week that includes housing. That's still where we are going."
Projects like APTN, the Manitoba Hydro Building, the Avenue Building residential conversion and the Hample Building beside it and now the planned development of the troubled block on the northwest corner of Donald Street and Portage Avenue are all evidence of good momentum.
But's it's not as if Portage Avenue has turned into the Golden Mile.
"The last six to seven years (since the MTS Centre was built) we have slowly progressed forward," Grande said. "The next six to seven years is really when the transformation will take place."
That's because once the street is fully occupied, demand will pick up. Rents will increase. Lower-end retailers will be forced to the sub-streets.
"There could be a real changeover of the face of Portage Avenue," he said. "That is the process. I hope that is where we are headed over the next six to seven years."
Grande's suggesting patience is still required. For instance, the retail space at the Portage Place mall is still 14 per cent vacant.
But Dave Stone, the mall's manager, said he is willing to be patient and wait for the right tenants that fit the space.
Grande said the mall's West Coast managers were recently in Winnipeg and said they were pleasantly surprised at everything that was going on in the city.
Stone says he sees only good things when it comes to the street's development.
"There is a spirit of co-operation between the private sector, CentreVenture, the police, the Downtown BIZ, Portage Place, Hydro," said Stone. "Everyone knows what the end goal is. Everyone is working together for the first time in a long time."
He said the newly redeveloped Bell Hotel on Main Street is another example of that.
Jean-Yyes Germain, co-president of Groupe Germain, who will build a boutique hotel in the Longboat development, knows what makes a downtown environment work.
When he was in the city last week, he said, "I spoke with the mayor and my message to him was, he has to bring residential downtown to make the city alive 24 hours a day. That's very important."
So while Portage Avenue may be healthier than it's been in decades, there's plenty of room for growth.
Portage Place's Stone and others are optimistic there are good things in store. "Portage Place was designed to have two towers one on each end," he said. "They will only be built when demand is there. That's probably three, four, five years away. But I do believe it will happen."
Recent and planned arrivals on Portage Avenue:
$75-million Longboat development.
Upcoming APTN expansion.
Avenue Building and Hample Building redevelopment.
Four Play Sports Bar in the Dayton Building.
Tim Hortons on the southeast corner of Portage and Vaughan.
New jazz club under construction in the Dreman Building.
Vacated Winnipeg police substation in the Curry Building has been leased.
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.