Soaked celebration: Plaza at True North Square opens to public under rainy skies
Opening called 'historic moment for our city' and 'new reality of downtown Winnipeg'
The much-anticipated public plaza at True North Square officially opened Thursday but a steady drizzle threw a wet blanket on the party.
Plans for the plaza, nestled between True North Square's first two towers, were first revealed in 2016. Construction fencing was pulled away early Thursday morning for the first time, allowing people to access the courtyard, which was backed by $17.6 million from the province and City of Winnipeg.
"After so much anticipation, we are thrilled to be able to showcase the many features of this public plaza to the citizens of Winnipeg," True North Development president Jim Ludlow said, calling it "a historic moment for our city" and the "new reality of downtown Winnipeg."
To celebrate, Winnipeggers were invited for free coffee and to play table games that were to be set up throughout the space, which includes seating areas, prairie grasses and a 56-jet water feature.
But mostly, the rain-sleeked concrete reflected back empty chairs and the umbrellas of the few people that showed up during the morning.
Jordan Coates is a graphic designer who works downtown — he went to check it out.
"It's beautiful. They did an awesome job. My favourite part is looking straight up and just with the curves of the building it looks so nice. It's just not like anything else we've had in Winnipeg before."
The formal opening at 1 p.m., with an honour song to recognize the history of the Treaty 1 land True North Square is built on, was moved indoors.
About 200 people attended, many of them government officials or representatives from True North Sports and Entertainment and its partners.
The party, however, is scheduled to go all day and the forecast calls for the rain to let up by mid-afternoon, when musicians and performers are scheduled to "bring the space to life."
Food trucks will be on site in the afternoon while evening activities will include appearances by Mick E. Moose and the Winnipeg Jets promo team, leading up to the Jets versus New Jersey Devils pre-season game.
Beautiful urban space
The wet conditions didn't dampen the enthusiasm of Kevin Donnelly, a senior vice-president with TNSE.
"People have been walking by for a couple of years and it's been a construction site, but now … we hope people will take the opportunity to come by. It's very exciting for us," said Donnelly.
The design and purpose of the plaza were inspired by entertainment districts around arenas in other cities, including L.A. Live in Los Angeles and Bell Place in Montreal.
The biggest influence probably came from Maple Leaf Square in Toronto, Donnelly said.
True North set out to design "a beautiful urban space where people can gather," he said.
He sees the space being used for summertime yoga sessions, an expansion for the downtown farmers market or even a wedding venue.
During Jets games, it could host a tailgate-type experience, where hockey fans gather and hear live music before heading into the arena.
"We're open to ideas and we're open to possibilities. Literally, the list is endless and we're just thrilled to be able to get started," Donnelly said.
"Winnipeggers are hardy so there's lots we can do in winter, summer, spring, fall."
The plaza, south of Graham Avenue between Hargrave and Carlton streets, is part of the $400-million True North Square development driven by the owners of the Jets. It is kitty-corner to Bell MTS Centre, which is also owned by TNSE.
True North Square consists of four towers with retail shops, offices and residential spaces, and a full-service hotel.
The first tower, 242 Hargrave St., opened in June 2018 and welcomed its first tenant, law firm Thompson Dorfman Sweatman, the next month.
The 17-storey office and retail building will be joined by the second tower, at 225 Carlton St., in spring 2019. That 25-storey building will contain office, retail and residential spaces.
True North Square's third and fourth towers, the Sutton Place Hotel and Residences, will be built as part of Phase 2 at the corner of Carlton Street and St. Mary Avenue. The anticipated completion date is 2021.
The entire development will also be integrated into Winnipeg's skywalk network.