CAO recommends Winnipeg spend $3.5M this year to get ball rolling on Portage and Main reopening
No timeframe or total cost of project yet known; consultant pegged simple removal of barricades at $6.1M
Winnipeg's top public servant says the city ought to spend up to $3.5 million this year to begin the complex process of reopening Portage and Main to pedestrians.
In a draft report to city council's executive policy committee, obtained by CBC News, chief administrative officer Doug McNeil says Winnipeg should reintroduce pedestrian activity to the city's most famous intersection in concert with Portage and Main property owners who are already improving private spaces both above and below the ground.
"Private investment is underway at Portage and Main," McNeil writes in a report dated Oct. 10, which recommends the city get started this year on a $3.5-million project that would officially wind up on the books in 2018.
"To ensure the alignment with City of Winnipeg interests, investment in the maintenance of city-owned assets at the intersection requires authorization by council."
Portage and Main was closed to pedestrians in 1979. Since then, people on foot must cross the intersection using subterranean tunnels that are part of Winnipeg's weather-protected walkway system.
When former public works director Lester Deane stated that would not be possible, Bowman called his claims inaccurate and told reporters McNeil was in charge of the project.
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The CAO's report, expected to published in some form on Friday, does not lay out a specific timeframe for reopening the intersection. Instead, McNeil recommends a "phased approach, ensuring all corners of the intersection work together with a priority to move people, however they chose to move, and is done in conjunction with private-sector improvements in the area."
But that estimate only took into account the cost of removing barricades without considering the broader planning, land-use and design implications of a complete makeover of the intersection.
Spending recommended soon
McNeil's report does not estimate the total cost of the project. Instead, he recommends the city spend up to $3.5 million on this year on three separate Portage and Main projects:
- Up to $1.5 million for architectural and engineering services, obtained through a competitive bidding process, to develop a more accurate cost estimate for reopening Portage and Main, a detailed design study, a phased construction schedule and a traffic staging plan.
- Up to $500,000 on new sidewalks, curbs, paving bands and trees connected to the Richardson plaza at the northeast corner of the building.
- Up to $1.5 million to improve city property in the underground concourse, consisting of work below the 201 Portage Avenue office tower at the northwest corner of the intersection, removing the bunker at the Richardson plaza and concourse evaluations, assessments and studies.
The CAO noted Harvard Properties is in the midst of improving the concourse below 201 Portage Avenue and has permission to work on city-owned property. The reimbursement costs for this work are subject to negotiation, he stated.
McNeil also noted the Richardson Corporation is planning to repair and upgrade its plaza above the ground as soon as 2018 and would like to see the city remove its bunker in time for the private work to proceed.
The CAO also noted Artis Real Estate Investment Trust is planning a 400-unit residential tower on the south pad of its Winnipeg Square property.
The Dillon study recommended reducing the eastbound portion of Portage Avenue East from two lanes to one lane to accommodate future changes to the southeast corner of the intersection, at the Bank of Montreal building.
Opening the east crosswalk could be the first phase of reopening the intersection, McNeil stated.
He recommended diverting $2 million from the regional streets renewal reserve for the project and using $1.5 million worth of existing spending authorizations to cover the project cost this year.
No comment from mayor, finance chair
The mayor's office declined to comment on the recommendation to spend $3.5 million. Bowman spokesperson Jeremy Davis said the mayor will address the report when it's made public.
Council finance chair Scott Gillingham (St. James-Brooklands-Weston) also said he would not comment until the report is published.
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"Taking money from that account toward the mayor's vanity project of reopening Portage and Main, I believe, is not consistent with what Winnipeggers are looking for," Browaty said.
Browaty said he still wants to know the traffic implications of reopening Portage and Main. The Dillon study is expected to be published Friday, along with a $70,000 design vision conducted by Vancouver firm Perkins+Will.