Can Winnipeg really turn around its downtown?
Downtown developers host community forum while businesses sit empty
Toronto-based developers were in Winnipeg Wednesday night trying to lure investors and trumpeting the potential of the city’s downtown core.
The event, dubbed Urbanomics 101 invited people to “learn more about what’s going on and how you can profit from it” in Winnipeg’s proposed Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District located downtown.
“I see no reason why Winnipeg is different than Ottawa or Toronto,” said David Wex of Urban Capital, the development company who hosted the event.
The group is also responsible for building the glass condominiums planned for a parcel of land across from the MTS Centre.
But not everyone is sold on the potential of downtown Winnipeg.
Edgar Rascon owns Mexican restaurant La Bamba on Portage Avenue. Rascon opened the business about two years ago and has already had to put it up for sale.
Rascon thought the return of the Jets would draw huge crowds downtown, but not so, the business-owner said.
“I think us trying to campaign to get people from the suburbs to come down – I think it’s a dead end,” he said. “We tell people, ‘Oh look, I’m from La Bamba, you should come down!’ and again most people [say], ‘Oh, it’s the parking, the panhandlers. It’s the feeling safe.’”
Rascon, who would like to see more people living downtown, said his eatery is usually empty and last year’s NHL lockout put him behind in bills he still hasn’t been able to catch up on.
For some Winnipeggers, living downtown is a non-starter.
Linden Woods resident Mark Bonten said it doesn't matter how it changes, he won't live there.
"(It's) busy. Hard to find parking," he said "I go down to see my wife at work and yeah, I try and stay away."
Bonten said heading downtown to do things though, might be different, if things improve, and businesses are successful at luring people to make the trip.
“It doesn’t surprise me that businesses are closing,” said Jino Distasio, director of the University of Winnipeg’s urban studies program. “We still have to deal with a lot of social issues that we’re facing in the downtown.”
But Distasio believes there is a lot for Winnipeggers to be hopeful for.
“For the first time in a long time, I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
That kind of attitude is the one Urban Capital developers are hoping to capitalize on. Construction is set to begin on their glass condominiums this winter, and about half the units have been sold.