City mulling downtown street closure for potential Jets playoff party
True North in talks for some form of outdoor gathering; location, cost and duration remain up in the air
The city is examining whether it can close a downtown street near Bell MTS Place to serve as a public gathering spot during the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs, when the Winnipeg Jets have the potential to enjoy a lengthy playoff run.
Officials with the city, Economic Development Winnipeg and True North Sports & Entertainment are planning some form of public event — potentially with an outdoor viewing screen — during the NHL playoffs.
The precise location for the proposed gathering space, how long it would run and the potential cost remain up in the air, as it's unclear who will foot the tab for party, never mind how long the Jets will continue to compete.
"I hope we're having this conversation in late May," said Economic Development Winnipeg president and CEO Dayna Spiring, who was tapped by Mayor Brian Bowman to co-ordinate the planning for the events.
"That's the best-case scenario. If I have to go look for money in late May, I like my chances pretty well."
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The NHL playoffs are slated to begin on April 11. The Jets will begin the first round at home, most likely hosting the Minnesota Wild.
Plans for a public gathering space should be in place before the playoffs start, said Spiring, hinting at a preference for street closures along the lines of what took place in Nashville last season, when the Predators made it to the Stanley Cup final.
"When we look at the gold standard, we look at what Nashville did last year. We look at what Calgary has done. We look at what Edmonton has done. So we're not trying to reinvent the wheel here. What I'm trying to do is see what the best is and see if we can replicate that," Spiring said Tuesday in an interview.
"The Winnipeg Jets are not only the talk of Winnipeg, but we're the talk of the country. We're really anxious to find a way to celebrate both the achievement of the Jets and all Winnipeg has to offer, and really showcase our city."
A street closure alongside Bell MTS Place would pose logistical problems, however.
Hargrave Street, to the west of the arena, is a narrow two-lane thoroughfare. Carlton Street, one block over, must offer motor-vehicle access to True North Square, where construction crews remain at work.
Graham Avenue is a bus corridor, while both Donald Street and Portage Avenue are heavily used by Winnipeg Transit and personal vehicles.
Officials with the city declined to speculate on the labour costs involved in a street closure, or the thornier question of who would foot the bill.
Both City of Winnipeg communications director Felicia Wiltshire and True North vice-president Rob Wozny deferred to Spiring for comment.
A less expensive alternative would involve The Forks, which served as the site for a return-of-the-Jets party in 2011, after True North announced the purchase and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers.
"In 2011, when the Jets were first announced, we put that thing together in a day," said Paul Jordan, president and CEO at The Forks.
"The physical space is here. The amenities are here. So we can react pretty quickly."
To date, however, no one from the city, True North or Economic Development Winnipeg has approached Jordan about utilizing The Forks.
Spiring would not state a street closure is the only option, as no final decision has been made.
Organizers want "to make sure we disrupt traffic as little as possible, but allow fans a safe place to go and celebrate," she said.
"Those are all considerations we're spending time talking about and we think we might have a couple of solutions that fit the bill," she said.