August 15, 2018

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Opinion

Downtown whiteout looks good on Winnipeg

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The crowd at the Winnipeg Whiteout Street Party goes wild as the Jets score the first goal of the game on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. </p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The crowd at the Winnipeg Whiteout Street Party goes wild as the Jets score the first goal of the game on Wednesday, April 11, 2018.

Events like Winnipeg’s first-ever Whiteout Street Party can contribute greatly to the continuing revival of our downtown and are an exciting example of why bringing the community together is important to the psycho-economic health of our city.

In my younger years, I went around the world to chase the party of parties — the FIFA world soccer tournament. I travelled to the World Cup in 1990 in Italy, 1994 in the U.S. and 1998 in France. Although I was never able to afford an actual ticket to attend the games, I backpacked and hostelled with thousands of other travellers to share the excitement and camaraderie.

I recall dancing in the conga line with the Dutch in their wooden shoes in France, and singing “Olé, olé, olé!” in Piazza Navona while watching the game on a big screen in Italy. Parties (and great reasons for parties) bring together people of all types to share drink and food, passion and sorrow, celebrating their sport heroes and the incredible downtowns of cities in which they are held.

Last week, thousands of Winnipeggers felt that vibe in our own city during the street parties to celebrate the Winnipeg Jets Stanley Cup playoff run, and I felt fortunate to be part of it.

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Events like Winnipeg’s first-ever Whiteout Street Party can contribute greatly to the continuing revival of our downtown and are an exciting example of why bringing the community together is important to the psycho-economic health of our city.

In my younger years, I went around the world to chase the party of parties — the FIFA world soccer tournament. I travelled to the World Cup in 1990 in Italy, 1994 in the U.S. and 1998 in France. Although I was never able to afford an actual ticket to attend the games, I backpacked and hostelled with thousands of other travellers to share the excitement and camaraderie.

I recall dancing in the conga line with the Dutch in their wooden shoes in France, and singing "Olé, olé, olé!" in Piazza Navona while watching the game on a big screen in Italy. Parties (and great reasons for parties) bring together people of all types to share drink and food, passion and sorrow, celebrating their sport heroes and the incredible downtowns of cities in which they are held.

Last week, thousands of Winnipeggers felt that vibe in our own city during the street parties to celebrate the Winnipeg Jets Stanley Cup playoff run, and I felt fortunate to be part of it.

The #WPGWhiteout parties last week brought thousands of people downtown to celebrate their heroes. Friends and families, most with no game tickets, showed up to the party early and rubbed shoulders. Two city blocks on Donald Street near Bell MTS Place were alive with white-clad Winnipeggers who screamed at missed referee calls, oohed at incredible hits and cheered goals that led to Jets’ victories.

People left their homes to mingle and meet, hugging and slapping hands, reinforcing that emotional attachment to our city which can lead to so many positive things. Restaurants and bars within 10 minutes walking distance were packed before, during and after the game. The economic and community development metrics can be measured, I’m sure, and there was also a "coolness" factor registered on the grins of young people who knew that a countrywide audience was watching, and Winnipeg was the place to be.

On Friday, when the puck drops on Game 5 inside Bell MTS Place, the excitement outside will only be greater.

The upwardly spiralling emotions of optimism, hope, resilience and victory that fuelled the Whiteout Street Party help create a positive psycho-economic health of Winnipeggers, are a great way of creating community, and help build pride among our citizens. This can support businesses and can even help to attract long-term economic development.

While events like this typically don’t happen overnight, they did in Winnipeg. True North Sports and Entertainment and Economic Development Winnipeg should be commended for taking the lead and putting on a party that brings with it a level of financial risk and liability. They believe in our city.

The city and Mayor Brian Bowman also need to be thanked for taking a leap of faith and moving quickly to mobilize the necessary resources (police, public works, streets, transit and others) to make this a reality.

The can-do attitude is refreshing.

Events such as these send a message to the world: Winnipeg has arrived. We are hip, cool and can throw a world-class street party.

And Winnipeggers also made a statement: "We will come downtown because it’s safe, fun and the place to be."

Stefano Grande is CEO of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

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