Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/2/2016 (2064 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When True North’s Mark Chipman announced plans in 2001 to tear down the Eaton’s building on Portage Avenue and build a new 15,000-seat arena, there were howls of protest and anger. And doubt. Lots of doubt about whether it was financially feasible, about whether it would help or hurt downtown and whether it was needed at all.
Naysayers opposed the demolition of a landmark heritage building, while others resented public subsidies for a private venture. Still others said it would ruin downtown by creating a black hole and stifle future growth.
The heritage purists will probably never be happy, nor will those who resent public support for rich businessmen.
History, however, has left most of those critics in the dust.
Yes, it has taken time — very little happens quickly in Winnipeg — but the vision of Mr. Chipman and his partners has been validated.
The MTS Centre has become one of the busiest and most successful arenas in North America. The addition of the Winnipeg Jets in 2011 generated enormous excitement and pride, not to mention more investment.
It may not have been an overnight miracle for downtown Winnipeg — miracles should be left for priests — but the controversial decisions of 2001 have indisputably turned out to be transformative for the community in general and downtown in particular.
The full effect was unveiled Wednesday with the announcement True North Sports & Entertainment, in partnership with James Richardson & Sons, will build two towers in a mixed-use development in the heart of downtown.
A third partner, Northland Properties Ltd., will build a 275-room luxury hotel and a 130-suite condo complex at 220 Carlton St., adjacent to the RBC Convention Centre.
The total package involves about one million square feet and an investment of $400 million, the largest private-sector development ever in Winnipeg. It should all be completed in 2019.
Portage and Main will remain Winnipeg’s iconic corner, but there will be a shift in gravity to the new True North Square, which is attracting some A-list tenants, including Scotiabank and the city’s leading law firm, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman.
Some of the Class A office space at Portage and Main is 30 to 40 years old, but the intersection is not expected to suffer any long-term pain as a result of True North Square.
Hartley Richardson, CEO of the family company, conceded "not everyone will be a winner in the short term." He said he believes that over time, Portage and Main will make up for any loss in tenants. He noted the intersection has lost tenants in the past to Broadway and other areas of downtown.
More importantly, Mr. Richardson said he believes the True North project would have "a ripple effect" by attracting investors from outside the province.
Indeed, conventional wisdom is a city that’s doing dynamic, bold developments tends to be noticed by outside business interests, while a city that’s stagnant creates the opposite impression.
Northlands president Thomas Gaglardi, an owner of the Dallas Stars NHL team, said it’s his hope the project will restore Winnipeg’s faded grandeur.
Indeed, amid the din over potholes, composting and underpasses, it is sometimes easy to forget what cities are supposed to be about.
A strong city has an exciting downtown, which requires cool places and large numbers of residents.
True North isn’t the final answer, for sure, but it is certainly the right idea.