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Is our downtown done?

Powerful retail corridors are reshaping cities, but one urban expert believes our core still has an edge

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/12/2012 (1722 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Is south Kenaston about to become Winnipeg's new downtown?

Only if you've got IKEA goggles on, say urban experts and downtown enthusiasts.

Kenaston Boulevard leads to IKEA and the powerful retail corridor of southwest Winnipeg. The Kapyong Barracks are in the foreground.


BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Kenaston Boulevard leads to IKEA and the powerful retail corridor of southwest Winnipeg. The Kapyong Barracks are in the foreground.

Winnipeg's downtown has long taken a battering in public opinion, and there's been extensive fuss and fanfare around the opening of IKEA in the city's southwest corner. However, urban experts and downtown enthusiasts say the spotlight on the new retail giant at Sterling Lyon Parkway and Kenaston Boulevard doesn't mean Winnipeg's downtown is done.

"I feel that there is no substitute for the atmosphere and the character and the style that you get from Winnipeg's downtown," said Dane Kofoed, store manager of Hut K, a high-end furniture store on Princess Street that celebrates its first anniversary this month.

Kofoed said the choice was made to locate the business downtown because there's something "inherently appealing about the history and the old buildings, and even just esthetically, the brick buildings and the Tyndall stone."

"I don't feel that there's people who will go there instead of here. I don't think there's people who will go to the southwest and not end up at the Exchange. I think you're shopping for very different things when you go to each place," said Kofoed.

Jino Distasio, the University of Winnipeg's Institute of Urban Studies director, said there are a lot of North American cities that "have almost suburbanized their downtowns" as people choose to shop elsewhere.

"This is a problem now, that as downtowns have bled retail, we've got these rises in very powerful retail corridors and clusters, that are really reshaping the city," said Distasio.

Regent Avenue is a dominant retail corridor, said Distasio, and activity along Kenaston is intensifying. He called the area on Kenaston that goes from the Polo Park area towards the Perimeter a "super-retail corridor."

"It's becoming the new retail cluster, it's becoming the new retail centre," said Distasio.

However, Distasio said he wouldn't classify the city's southwest as the new downtown.

Even though retail activity has moved away from the core, he said significant office and commercial space remains in downtown Winnipeg.

"Should that shift, then I think we would be able to say that the downtown is really being transformed," he said.

The momentum stretches farther than IKEA.

Last week, there was more movement toward development in Winnipeg's southwest. Sagkeeng First Nation Chief Donovan Fontaine said First Nations groups involved in an ongoing legal battle over the former Kapyong Barracks site, near Grant Avenue and Kenaston Boulevard, were closer than ever to a deal that would turn the site into an urban reserve.

Also bringing more people to southwest Winnipeg will be Waverley West, a residential subdivision expected to have 40,000 residents once it's completed.

"Once the IKEA takes root, you also have to remember there's another lion that's about to roar, which is Kapyong," said Distasio. "So the more you intensify this corridor, it will probably be the most dominant retail corridor in the city in very short order, extending right from Polo Park right to the Perimeter, right into Waverley West."

Regardless of the city's southwest pull, Distasio said downtown will maintain one important edge.

"Downtowns survive because they've got one pretty critical advantage, and that's location," he said. "And as much as we think that this IKEA is well-located, it's not.

It's well-located for certain purposes, but the downtown -- much more central, much more accessible -- will always have that advantage."

Christopher Leo, an urban affairs expert who recently retired from the University of Winnipeg, said he sees the area in the city's southwest as a "competing commercial centre" that attracts a different market niche.

And Stefano Grande, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ executive director, said he's less concerned about the IKEA development in southwest Winnipeg than apartment and condominium growth outside the core. He also wants to see offices and hotels concentrate downtown, he said.

"Clearly that's a suburban box-store type of development that seldom happens downtown because of the format, because of their needs for parking and land," said Grande.

What will bring people to southwest Winnipeg?


KAPYONG BARRACKS: A 64.7-hectare site near Kenaston Boulevard and Grant Avenue. Development of the site has been held up for years in a legal battle between seven First Nations and Ottawa. Once resolved, residential and commercial development could take place there.

WAVERLEY WEST: A subdivison south of where Kenaston curves into Bishop Grandin Boulevard, and is due to be done by 2022. The site will have an estimated 12,000 to 13,000 homes once completed.

IKEA: The much-hyped 400,000-square-foot store at Kenaston and Sterling Lyon Parkway attracted thousands at its opening day Wednesday.


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