Everyone likely knows by now that I can be a bit of a shameless booster for our city.
I love living here. I would go crazy without all four seasons. I enjoy running into lifelong friends and yet I also like that I can disappear into a crowd of strangers.
I also find that Winnipeg, right now, is a more surprising place to live than it's ever been in my lifetime.
Things are really changing, improving and developing here. I live on a street where modern houses are rising between century-old homes but people still cut each others lawns and know my dogs' names.
It's like a bit of new attitude mixed with small town values. There is a corner spot to pick up emergency milk, a place to get your hair cut and lots of places to get a good cup of coffee within walking distance.
It's a great neighbourhood vibe.
The question is … how does a neighbourhood become that way when you are starting from scratch?
Should you start with increasing the number of residents in an area or with the infrastructure development?
A story this week shows that our city councillors disagree about the answer to that question but nevertheless they have voted in favour of throwing more money at an area where the issue has become a problem — Winnipeg's Exchange District.
The city is offering a $10,000 forgiveable loan to anyone who buys a condo in the Exchange or Waterfront areas. A report recommends the loan as a way to attract more residents to the area and breathe some life into a stagnant Downtown Residential Development Strategy.
Ross McGowan, CEO of CentreVenture, the city's arms-length downtown development agency, said with more than 450 condo units available in the Exchange, the program could add 1,000 people to the area.
He says that could make setting up retail and grocery stores more viable.
John Orlikow, city councillor for River Heights Fort Garry, voted against the idea. He thinks it's ludicrous to believe that offering someone a $10,000 incentive on a $300,000 investment is going to make them pull the trigger and move.
Orlikow thinks the city would be better off trying to improve safety, residential parking, lighting and urban parks in the area to entice people to consider the neighbourhood. He called offering incentives a "slippery slope."
I wonder if the city's plan is also a waste of money. Developers were given financial incentives through city grants to build in the first place. So it looks like we're paying a second time for a dream that hasn't materialized.
In most neighbourhoods, of course, if a property doesn't sell then the developer drops the price, that IS the incentive. The city isn't offering anyone a loan to move onto my street.
I do acknowledge, however, that this is not my street.
On my street, for some of the reasons that I mentioned before, houses still sell quickly and bidding wars continue. This area is something new, and I think there is an argument to be made that it is crucial for our entire city that it thrives.
Waterfront Drive and the Exchange District might be developing as residential neighbourhoods but they already stand as physical manifestations of Winnipeg's new attitude, or at least what we might want that new attitude to be.
It's a mindset that says we have finally arrived.
It is an attitude that shows Winnipeg today as not only a place with gorgeous old character homes and suburban dream houses fit for families but a place with condo living in the heart of it all where young professionals choose to live and work.
Where are the buyers?
So what really went wrong here? Why has the area turned into Winnipeg's ghost town?
It makes me sad to drive down to The Forks or a Goldeyes game and wind down the road looking at lovely condos and empty streets.
It feels like we built it and nobody came. A very dangerous vibe for a city.
I honestly think that this all comes back to a problem with the bottom line. The cost of those condos doesn't seem to be in line with to the cost of real estate in the rest of the city.
For what it's worth, the people who I know that own condos in Winnipeg didn't spend $300,000 on them. Some of those people couldn't afford to spend that much money and others realized that you can still buy a great house in a wonderful neighbourhood for that type of budget.
You can also buy a condo in a well established area like Osborne Village with that budget. I'm not sure that we understood our potential buyers very well.
We've created a market of competing priorities. Urban versus suburban condos. Infill versus suburban sprawl.
Or maybe we understand our potential buyers perfectly but they just don't live in Winnipeg.
Perhaps they are those young professionals who will take our city to the next level and show up in town with bags of money and a desire to live on Waterfront Drive. Maybe those people won't care how much money they spend because they will buy into the lifestyle; they will buy into the dream.
Is it worth $10,000 extra to get them to see the dream?
I sincerely hope that we soon find out.