Bowman calls city director 'inaccurate' as Portage & Main confusion mounts

Mayor Brian Bowman has taken the rare step of contradicting a city department director as confusion mounts about the timelines involved in reopening Portage & Main to pedestrians.

Public works director suggested it would take two years of planning before construction could begin

There's confusion at city hall over the timelines surrounding the potential reopening of Portage & Main. (Google Street View)

Mayor Brian Bowman has taken the rare step of contradicting a city department director as confusion mounts about the timelines involved in reopening Portage & Main to pedestrians.

On Tuesday, public works director Lester Deane suggested it would take two years to work out all the safety, accessibility and other technical considerations surrounding the reopening of Winnipeg's most famous intersection before construction could begin on a project dear to the mayor.

Bowman, who up until recently stated he wanted to see Portage & Main reopen in July 2017, told reporters Wednesday that Deane's "statements were inaccurate" and suggested the public works director is not up to speed in the file.

"There are no timelines that are contemplated. It could happen sooner and it could happen later," Bowman told reporters at city hall following an executive policy committee meeting.

"The timelines that are being contemplated vary and it really is going to be dependent upon how the discussions continue to go with the property owners."

Bowman said the reopening of Portage & Main is being led by chief administrative officer Doug McNeil, who is leading negotiations with the owners of private properties adjacent Portage & Main.

Mayor Brian Bowman, at Portage and Main in June. (Trevor Brine/CBC)
McNeil said public works and Winnipeg Transit are leading the technical aspects of the proposed project, which will have implications for motor-vehicle traffic, transit service and city-owned infrastructure below the surface of Portage & Main.

McNeil said the city-owned barricades above ground actually extend below ground and make up part of the structure of the subterranean circus. That circular walkway is in need of upgrades as it approaches 40 years in age, he said.

The Portage & Main property owners expect the city to make an investment into the intersection as they consider making significant investments of their own. Artis Real Estate Investment Trust, for example, is refurbishing the exterior of its office tower at 360 Main St, and plans to build a residential tower further south on a pad above Winnipeg Square.

"That's what the owners are saying: We have, and we are going to invest in our properties and they're saying to the city, we'd like you to consider investing in your property, too.' And we are looking at that," McNeil said.

Deane said Tuesday the city may have to acquire some property from the Bank of Montreal to make the project work, but McNeil said he doesn't know if that will be necessary.

The CAO, who said he spoke to Deane Tuesday night, did not describe the public works director's comments about the preparation required for the project as inaccurate. But McNeil would not say when work could begin or how much it would cost.

The CAO said he is not aware of a cost estimate being included in Dillon Construction's traffic analysis of Portage & Main. McNeil also said he has not read a draft report about the project, but stated a report could come before city councillors within months.

There is no money in the 2017 budget to reopen Portage & Main. McNeil said he believed Deane took that as a signal that work could not begin until 2018.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.