People were happy, giddy and
excited about sharing a significant
moment in the history of Winnipeg and Manitoba.
Their experience started even before reaching the entrance of the new MTS Centre. Searchlight beams rose upward as if to seek out the aurora borealis, the symbol of Canada’s North and a fitting beacon, since it was in keeping with the theme of the evening’s entertainment — Northern Lights, Northern Stars.
Superlatives were readily expressed. The most common were “Wow, magnificent, beautiful, stunning, awesome.”
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the MTS Centre,” announced a proud Mark Chipman, president and owner of the Manitoba Moose, who received the praise of all the speakers during the official opening ceremony for having the vision to believe a downtown arena and entertainment complex was possible.
“This is a sign that when we work
together, Winnipeg and Manitoba are unstoppable,” said Premier Gary Doer, raising a glass in the air to salute the
triumphant completion of a project and “a future of optimism and hope.”
All the detractors who said it couldn’t be done were silenced. Winnipeg had become a “can-do” city in the words of the premier. The True North group had persevered in the face of adversity to build Winnipeg’s newest downtown
entertainment venue which rivals anything found in cities twice, even three times, its size.
“We chose can do over can’t do,” added Doer.
Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said he was “confident this world-class facility in the heart of our city will be ... a major shot in the arm. We are just getting started.”
“It was our intention to create an asset that we can all be proud of,” added Chipman.
It would be simple to merely say they achieved this goal. But, True North in partnership with the three levels of government actually hit a higher chord — they created a superlative entertainment facility, worthy of all the praise it received on opening night from the people at the pre-concert reception, those that filed through the doors to fill the seats and the entertainers who rocked the house.
None of the people who lined up an hour before the doors opened at 7 p.m. could honesty express disappointment.
Parking — no problem.
Don Evans from Winnipeg Beach said he simply came a little early and didn’t have any difficulty finding a parking spot. He didn’t even take advantage of the option of purchasing a parking stall with his ticket.
The only real problem is traffic. For the Moose game on Wednesday evening, cars were bumper to bumper as they headed toward parking lots. The solution is to give yourself plenty of time, even if you have purchased an assigned spot.
Sound — absolutely terrific. After braving 50 years of terrible acoustics at the old Winnipeg Arena, it was soothing to the ear to be able to clearly pick out Randy Bachman’s voice, the rifts of each guitar, the chord strikes of the keyboard player, the tempo of the drums and the resonating sounds of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. No white noise. No areas where the music couldn’t be heard at all like in the old arena. Whether you sat in the upper levels or in the seats lining the arena floor, the sound was virtually the same. Whomever your star of choice — Bachman, the orchestra, Chantal Kreviazuk, Doc Walker, Tom Cochrane or Burton Cummings — the notes were rich and strong. Only in mismatched situations such as Bachman frenetically strumming his guitar was the orchestra’s sound dimmed. The MTS Centre was purposely designed with live music in mind.
And, it’s flexible when it comes to concert size. On Tuesday night there was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 12,000 people in attendance, but concert size can be as high as 15,000 or as low as 2,500. A system of curtains can be retracted or expanded to fit the anticipated audience number.
Concessions — many with plenty of choice. The prices may have seemed a tad high for some — a hot dog was $4 and a jumbo draft was $6.50 ($5 for regular) — but anything brand new comes with a price tag. I’ve bought a $11 jumbo draft at the Corel Centre in Ottawa, and a $7 US plate of gooey, processed-cheese-flavoured nachos at old Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The concessions may seem pricey to some, but they are well below the costs in other complexes in other cities.
Don’t want a hamburger, then have pickerel. The centre caters to nearly anyone’s taste who walks through its doors.
The only complaint I heard was that Gondola Pizza had run out of pizza ($9 for pepperoni) before the Moose game started. They promised to get more in later.
Sightlines — can’t be beat. No matter where you sit, the view is clear and unobstructed. That sure beats the old arena hands down where inconvenient obstructions, such as pillars and posts, blocked the view of large sections of the stage and ice surface for many patrons. I sat in the very last row of seats in the upper deck for the Moose game and had no problem following the puck and the on-ice action.
It’s a great edifice, but what remains to be realized is its contribution to the revitalization of the downtown. It will surely be a piece of the puzzle, though a very important one. After all, when have 12,000 people been seen downtown in the evening on a regular basis. The commonest sight is office workers streaming out of the downtown just as the clock chimes five o’clock.
There are already venues to fill the
daytime slot such as the Red River
College downtown campus, A&B Sound and Mountain Equipment Co-op, and the yet to be completed Millennium Library, a six-storey hotel being built by the Lakeview Group of Companies, the anticipated Manitoba Hydro office tower and the five-storey Credit Union Central of Manitoba under construction. What was missing on Portage was something like the new MTS Centre to fill a time void and make the area nearly a 24-hour-a-day attraction.
People need a reason to come and live in the downtown and the new complex provides another incentive. Residential developments are being conceived and executed within the boundaries of the inner city, but they are primarily of the high-end variety. Hockey is the sport of the beer and pretzels crowd. They don’t have zillions of dollars to buy a ritzy waterfront condo, but they have enough money to rent or own a comfortable studio apartment or condo. It’s a mix of people that will make Winnipeg’s downtown successful and the MTS Centre is just the facility to help create this requirement.
“We are starting as a community to get things done,” said the premier.
It was a partnership between government and the private sector which made the $133.5-million MTS Centre possible and it will be a similar partnership that will convert the old buildings
of the inner city into apartments and condos and build houses on infill lots.
The MTS Centre is an example of the old adage of “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” in operation.