The new owners of Portage Place and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will meet about plans for a community hub as part of the redevelopment of the downtown mall; and other community groups hope they can be part of the community consultations, too.
Starlight Developments, a division of Toronto-based Starlight Investments, a commercial real estate investment and asset management company, announced on Thursday it plans to create a 10,000-square-foot community hub, which it has dubbed P3Commons.
The company says the space would be open to the public 24 hours a day and include public washrooms. Advocates for the homeless have long called for such a space in the city.
In a statement, assembly Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said he has met with Starlight "several times" and is discussing how AMC and the community can participate meaningfully in using the space.
"This would be an ideal opportunity to accommodate the EAGLE Urban Transition Centre to provide a culturally appropriate environment for First Nations people who are transitioning to Winnipeg from remote areas in Manitoba," Dumas said. "The assembly would like to be part of the discussions and to be involved directly.
"We encourage Starlight to seriously consider moving our transition centre program into a larger and more centralized downtown space and to partner with other urban organizations to address the needs of our citizens."
Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, said she likes what she has heard so far, and she hopes Starlight consults with other members of the community.
"We will obviously express support for the concept because we need downtown areas which help people who are marginalized and turned away from buildings," Kehler said.
"But we've been talking to each other and we've been finding no one has been consulted. The AMC is involved, and that's good, but we need all of the stakeholders to be included. The downtown is also a hub for newcomers. We work hard to bring these communities together.
"It needs to be a meeting space for all communities."
Last year, the former owners of the mall and the three levels of government sold the Portage Place building, land, and the underground parkade to Starlight for $70 million.
The company has said it wants to build two 20-storey towers on each end of the mall — the structure was originally designed to accommodate them — as well as a pedestrian corridor to replace the Edmonton court.
Kate Fenske, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ's chief executive officer, said the 24-hour accessible space with washrooms is "really exciting news.
"That addresses a need for downtown," she said. "It is definitely showing they want to be part of this community.
"It is a significant size and it would meet a need. Our pop-up toilet, we haven't been able to operate it 24/7 or in winter so this will be for anyone that needs to go. It's still early, but I'm very hopeful."
In a statement, Glen Hirsh, Starlight's chief operating officer, said the company is "extremely proud and excited to be working collaboratively with myriad Winnipeggers to re-envision the Portage Place Mall site.
"It has been made clear to us, through extensive stakeholder consultations, that an inclusive, complete community must include a place that ensures all constituents of the current mall will continue to benefit from the site's future plans."
Marni Larkins, a Starlight spokeswoman, said: "We are grateful to all those wanting to play a part to ensuring our vision of an inclusive complete community comes to fruition."
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.