A commercial district is just one of four new Portage Avenue zones development agency CentreVenture has planned for the city's downtown. ((City of Winnipeg))

The City of Winnipeg's downtown development agency is proposing big changes in an effort to kick-start the core area as a retail hub and entertainment destination.

A proposal from CentreVenture released Wednesday would see the northern section of Portage Avenue – which cuts through the heart of downtown – turned into four distinct zones.

The city said in planning documents that the objective of the plan is to increase development and pedestrian traffic in the area, which sports a number of vacant buildings and empty streets after 5 p.m. when office workers leave the area.

The zones being proposed are:

  • A University district that would encompass the area from the University of Winnipeg to the Portage Place mall, possibly connected by a skywalk system.
  • A Retail district that will include the redevelopment of The Hudson's Bay Co. building on Memorial Boulevard.
  • A Sports and Entertainment district that would be anchored by the MTS Centre on Donald Street.
  • A Commercial district centred around the Avenue Building which is being turned into a multi-unit residence to attract more Winnipeggers to living downtown.

The city said a key part of the proposal will be addressing safety and "public comfort" by developing a public safety plan for the four districts and working with the provincial government to "resolve the impact" beverage rooms and a handful of low-rent hotels have on the area.

Many business owners on north Portage have complained about public intoxication, vagrancy and panhandling that accompanies the sale of liquor in the area.

To fund the proposal, the city said it would consider using property tax money generated by the entertainment district to fuel development of the three other zones, as well as cash from other levels of government and the private sector.

The next step in CentreVenture's proposal will be drawing up a master planning document by September.