In April 1999, WinnipegREALTORS® established a task force to look at the issue of mixed-use development in the downtown. The task force strongly encouraged CentreVenture, the city’s downtown development agency, to act on creating financial incentives to spur on new development. At a special meeting with REALTORS® earlier this month at The Forks atrium, Ross McGowan, president and CEO of CentreVenture, spoke of the changing face of Winnipeg’s downtown:
“In the past five years, downtown has made significant leaps and bounds, particularly in these challenging times! Our economy is strong and as a result our confidence to move forward with a bold and comprehensive vision has never been greater, (which is) ... a testimony to the great work of all our partners and the private sector. What is clear is that we are seeing a renaissance that will change the city forever. The key to our success is rooted in the spirit of co-operation and collaboration that makes moving mountains possible ...
“Several precincts are leading the way, including Main Street Revitalization, the Exchange District, The Forks, Portage Avenue and the SHED. These areas, over the next three to four years, will transform downtown with well over $1 billion in new investments. Who would have thought this possible 10, even five years ago?
“Over the past few years we have:
• “Sold 26 surplus city properties, bringing them back on the tax roll, generating $2.5 million in additional annual property tax.
• “Provided bridge financing of heritage tax credits and heritage grants that combined have contributed to the redevelopment of over 40 heritage buildings.
• “Participated directly in over $250 million dollars in development on Main Street alone, increasing the property tax base from $386,000 per year to nearly $3.8 million, an increase of 1,000 per cent.
• “We are currently delivering on behalf of the province and city, the Downtown Residential Grant Development Program that, to date, has received 26 applications representing over 1,000 new residential units with a private investment of over $250 million ...
“We have a unique tool box in addition to a broad, supported mandate. Our most important tool is what we call the Urban Development Bank. In addition to providing grants and bridge financing tax credits, we provide mortgages and construction loans and undertake land assemblies to facilitate strategic projects, such as the United Way, WRHA head office, the new Centre Point Development, to name but a few.
“The success of the WRHA has led to the United Way offices being relocated to Pacific and Main. CentreVenture played a prominent role in facilitating these important community-based projects and assisted with the time consuming and necessary land assembly that can often be an overwhelming roadblock to development. We also see the completion of the $13-million Centre for Youth Excellence at Higgins and Main ... We are also seeing, for the first time in years, private investment on Main Street. A small office complex next to the Bell Hotel will be constructed in the coming months and will include a pharmacy and coffee shop, essential ingredients of a successful and sustainable neighbourhood.
“And of course, the Bell Hotel, a landmark residential project providing safe supportive housing for the chronically homeless. We are also seeing the completion of the Union Tower building at William and Main Street into the Paterson GlobalFoods Institute, the new home of Red River’s $27-million Culinary Arts and Hospitality Program, incorporating residential space for 100 students. The Paterson GlobalFoods Institute will have the lights turned on in Western Canada’s first skyscraper for the first time in nearly 20 years ...
“The Portage Avenue Action Strategy redirects the focus of downtown inward; thus making downtown smaller and more manageable with an increased emphasis on people, activity and density — the essential elements for a safe and healthy downtown. Portage Avenue can be easily segmented into four distinct precincts:
• “University District — the objective of the plan is to integrate and link the U of W with Portage Place through a skywalk connection and hence the rest of downtown to the east.
• “Retail District — primarily Graham Avenue, Portage Place and the Bay will be the beneficiary of the Portage Avenue Plan with a retail recruitment component.
• “Sports, Hospitality & Entertainment District — SHED, the centerpiece of the Portage Avenue Plan.
• “Commercial District — the economic heart of the city and Portage Avenue.
“The essence of the plan is to increase the opportunity for economic success, improve safety and pedestrian comfort in the context of an overall investment attraction and protection plan. This is the linchpin of the plan and, as a result, this has sent a clear message to the private sector that a new era has emerged, that we want a great downtown, and that if you choose to invest here, our standards have been raised and your investment will be supported and protected ...
“SHED is about people and it starts with Portage Avenue. The iconic face of SHED, ground zero for the redevelopment, is Longboat Development’s Centrepoint that is the spark that lights the fire throughout the district. The project is not a stand-alone, and, in fact, is just the beginning.
“South of Portage, significant change is in the air. The return of the Jets has been icing on the cake and frankly transforms the city instantly back into the international spotlight. It is how we capitalize on this gift and how we present ourselves that will be seen around the world, and quite frankly, second best should not be good enough ...
“Major developments, such as the recently announced expansion of the Winnipeg Convention Centre and the anticipated development of the City Place parking lots owned by MPI, are the place makers for the SHED and ultimately hold the key to success of the district. We are working with both groups to ensure the greatest return on the public and private investment is realized ... Both the city and the province have designated (the SHED) as a Tax Increment Financing zone, whereby the incremental tax generated inside this area are applied against the public-sector capital improvements, not only within the SHED, but along Portage Avenue, as well.
“Additional activity in and adjacent to the SHED that is in the works, includes the relocation of the Winnipeg Police Service to the Post Office Building, redevelopment of the Metropolitan Theatre into a mixed-use entertainment emporium with a grand opening at the end of this month. The Avenue Building, a 72-unit rental residential, opened this spring, adding much needed eyes to the Street. The completion of Millennium Library Park opened this summer, APTN expansion is in progress, all of which adds to the momentum we are witnessing today.
“Eliminating uncertainty is a primary goal in all our work which ultimately translates into predictability and investor confidence. After all, private investment is the ultimate testimony to the success of any revitalization strategy, and it is the public seed capital and commitment to a plan that often is the catalyst for such investment. The private sector measures its success through its return on investment, while the public sectors return is measured through increased property values and an expanded tax base ...
“As your downtown development agency, we will continue to champion the revitalization of downtown. The table is set and we welcome REALTORS® to our neighbourhood.”
CentreVenture also recently announced the acquisition of the St. Regis Hotel on Smith Street. The intent is to close the beverage and VLT lounge when they take possession in the New Year. It is all part of a bigger plan to redevelop Portage Avenue and build on all the other new exciting developments around it, such as the restoration of the Metropolitan Theatre.