Manitoba

Portage Place should pivot from commerce to community focus, Winnipeg organizations say

A group of Winnipeg organizations has revealed their vision for Portage Place Mall, which focuses on community and includes a proposal for hundreds of affordable housing units, safety initiatives and the opportunity for Indigenous developers to own the property.

Community group releases plan that calls for mall to shift to affordable housing, community focus

Winnipeg grassroots organizations say that Portage Place Mall has failed as a place for commerce, but is a successful gathering space that should be redeveloped to meet community needs. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

A group of Winnipeg organizations want their vision for the downtown Portage Place mall, which includes redeveloping the space into a non-profit community hub with affordable housing and a reimagined safety plan, to be part of the discussion in the municipal election campaign.

"We hear again and again that Portage Place is vacant, and the downtown is empty … and this is flatly untrue. There are many, many people who use and depend upon Portage Place as a vital resource," said Cam Scott from the West Broadway Tenants Committee.

That grassroots organization began working on a community-centred vision for the three-block space after Toronto's Starlight Investments backed out of a deal to buy the mall last September.

The committee unveiled the proposal at a news conference at Portage Place on Friday.

Relying heavily on the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' 2022 State of the Inner City Report for guidance, the community-focused vision proposes hundreds of units of affordable rent-geared-to-income social housing, a holistic resource-based safety approach, and free community gathering spaces.

Citing the transfer of the Hudson's Bay building to the Southern Chiefs' Organization earlier this year, the redevelopment plan would give Indigenous people the first opportunity to own the Portage Place property. If no Indigenous developers show interest, the building would be publicly owned.

A group of six people stand in a retail space with art hanging on the walls behind them, including a poster that reads "Community" in large letters.
Members from Winnipeg grassroots organizations held a news conference Friday for the launch of the Portage Place plan. They want candidates in the municipal election to prioritize a community-focused redevelopment plan for the downtown mall. (Peggy Lam/CBC)

Andrée Forest, a Manitoba researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says the vision is about meeting the needs of community members, who have for decades said the area needs better housing and social supports.

"Communities are safer when everybody's needs are met," Forest said at Friday's news conference.

"With the 35th anniversary of the mall [this year], this means 40 years ago some of these same calls were made ... [and] the mall did not deliver. Those needs are still very present, perhaps even more so," she said.

While the mall has largely failed as a place of commerce, it has succeeded in being a central place of gathering for people downtown, says Forest, and it's time for the mall to fulfil its potential.

Many of the people who use Portage Place and live in surrounding areas are immigrants, which needs to be considered when redeveloping the mall, said the executive director of Immigration Partnership Winnipeg. 

"Downtown is home for many newcomers, most of whom came from collective societies where meeting places [are] always a centre of their life," said Reuben Garang, who was also at Portage Place for the launch of the plan Friday.

"It costs us so dearly if we alienate and neglect part of our city population. This process, it has to be inclusive. And it has to be reflective of the people that live around here."

The proposed holistic safety plan would centre the needs of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, as opposed to relying on security and police to meet the needs of the business community.

"All the community organizations in the area are working on the same things, and this place could be the home for that," said Forest — something she said people running for mayor or council seats in Winnipeg's Oct. 26 should consider.

"So all election hopefuls should really echo the calls made, and I hope to see folks really kind of take this community vision at heart and fight for the Portage Place that should be."

Portage Place should pivot from commerce to community focus, Winnipeg organizations say

4 months ago
Duration 1:58
A group of Winnipeg organizations want their vision for the downtown Portage Place mall, which includes redeveloping the space into a non-profit community hub with affordable housing and a reimagined safety plan, to be part of the discussion in the municipal election campaign.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jenn Allen

Reporter

Jenn Allen is a reporter at CBC Manitoba. She studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch with her at: jenn.allen@CBC.ca.

With files from Peggy Lam

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