by Stefano Grande
There is no doubt our downtown is undergoing a significant urban renaissance, defining and carving out a role in its city as not only a place to work and travel to, but as an exciting place to visit for a diverse complement of entertainment.
With the recent announcement of True North Square, the emerging Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED) within our downtown is looking brighter.
Now that True North Sports and Entertainment has acquired the property at 220 Carlton St., in conjunction with an exclusive option to develop a large surface parking lot south of Carlton Street, the company’s vision to develop the land assembled into a $400-million hotel, office and commercial complex — True North Square — can move forward.
This proposal fits exceptionally well with the vision for SHED and will move this emerging district forward, making our downtown a place where people want to be seen, play, shop and live. The development will feed off the traffic generated by our downtown arena, the MTS Centre, and the recently expanded and renovated convention centre.
If True North Square’s preliminary renderings and designs are any indication of the level of excellence, the development that will come forward will include incredibly well-designed mixed-use buildings that are comprised of hip places to live, dynamic office spaces and commercial sidewalk spaces for cafes, restaurants, jazz clubs and a community gathering place or a plaza, creating a high degree of pedestrian and vehicular connectivity.
While two or three new office towers would have been welcomed at this site, the proposal is the nirvana of downtown vibrancy we all wish for, and is essential in taking the real estate market to the next level. Mixed-use, dense developments are the recipe for success of our downtown because they create a dynamic, walkable district that provides a wide range of things to do — at all hours of the day, from living, working, shopping, dining and entertainment venues that are all in close proximity to each other.
Perhaps one of the more bold ideas of True North Square is to create a new gathering place — a new plaza for our downtown. A place where people would arrive by foot, transit, bike or car and immediately know that they are at the centre of the downtown. A place where people can sip their cup of whatever and watch the world go by. A stunning area that will attract the community for outdoor concerts, pre-game tailgate parties, New Year’s Eve bashes, and celebrating community accomplishments. Evenings would be transformed into nocturnal showpieces of lit buildings and trees, while hundreds of people sit on patios waiting for the Jets’ game to start, or to celebrate the win of their team in the next playoff run. The centre of it all, the most significant place in a city that belongs to everyone, capturing the essence and heart of our Downtown.
There is no doubt the project being proposed by True North Sports and Entertainment will be transformative. It will create a new market for consumers. It will force property owners to step up their game and re-invest in their buildings and better align their marketing strategies more in sync with the SHED Vision. It will provide reason for people to consider living downtown, it will make a compelling argument that if your company has “arrived,” this is the location to be, and if you are a unique retailer or a restaurant, this is the new emerging district which you will want to be part off.
I would argue that this project will set the stage for continued renewal efforts over the next decade in downtown Winnipeg.
(Stefano Grande is the executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.)