Winnipeg city hall is taking a step toward potentially lowering the number of surface parking lots downtown by replacing some lots with apartments.

On Thursday, the city's downtown development, heritage and riverbank management committee approved a plan that would offer downtown developers a tax freeze for 12 years if they build rental housing.

The tax freeze would be extended to a maximum of 20 years if the housing is built on a surface parking lot.

If approved, the proposed tax freezes would only apply to the increased property and education taxes associated with the new development.

It's still a good start, says local architect Brent Bellamy, who notes that surface lots take up as much space as buildings in downtown Winnipeg.

"To have a really prosperous downtown, we need to start making choices that put people ahead of cars," Bellamy said.

"For about 40 years, 50 years, we've been doing things for cars first. And so, really, the pedestrian has become secondary."

The proposal goes before city council later this month.

Earlier this year, the website Winnipeg: Love and Hate posted a number of Google Earth screen shots showing some of the many surface parking lots downtown.

Bellamy created a map that shows the number of surface parking lots outnumber above-ground parking structures and underground parking.

"It always kind of makes me laugh when I hear people say that they don't come downtown because there's nowhere to park," he said.

"If you look at a Google Earth map, you could sort of interchange parking lots with buildings, and there would be no difference. It's almost a 50-50 split."

There are 208 standalone parking lots in the downtown area, taking up a combined total of roughly 35 hectares of land, according to a city spokesperson.

Read the city report

Read the report on the proposed tax freeze, called the Live Downtown — Rental Development Grant Program, that was discussed by council's downtown development committee on Thursday.