Revitalized Downtown Shines In Tour

winnipeg free press

by: Martin Cash

Winnipeg’s downtown was looking busy and smart as Susan Ainley of the Downtown Business Improvement Zone took a group of about 30 downtown economic development officials from all over the world on a walking tour.

Some of the 600 delegates from the International Downtown Association’s conference in Winnipeg this week strolled up Carlton Street past the True North Square construction site with St. Mary’s Cathedral in the background, past Bell MTS Place and over to the Cube at Old Market Square and the Esplanade Riel.

On a warm, late-summer day, the organizing host committee — including the Downtown BIZ, Exchange District BIZ and West End BIZ — could not have asked for a better day to show the city off.

Rennie Zegalski, chairman of the West End BIZ and a principal at Capital Commercial Real Estate Services, said while there was justifiably a lot of attention and public awareness for this year’s Canada Summer Games, the significance of landing the IDA conference isn’t lost on the city’s community economic development professionals.

“We’ve got 600 of the most influential folks in downtown industry internationally,” he said.

“They come here, they blog, they are experts, they shape conversation. These people are here looking at every corner, every experience, every piece of litter, every homeless person. It’s a great opportunity to give that one-time first impression.”

Wednesday saw a series of events leading into the conference, including an information-packed workshop called The Future of Physical Retail in the Age of Online.

But mostly delegates had a number of organized tours of the city to choose from.

Carla Duval-Tyler, chairwoman of the Riversdale Business Improvement Zone in Saskatoon, was impressed with the Exchange District.

“It was lovely to see all the great historic buildings and the vibrancy of that area and we had a great little breakfast at Clementine,” she said.

“Seeing the old buildings being utilized was good because our area in Saskatoon is up and coming the same way. It’s an older neighborhood in the process of resurgence and revitalization.”

The Winnipeg organizing committee pitched the IDA on the success of the public-private partnerships in downtown’s development and decided on “Authenticity” as the theme of the event.

Kay Miller, executive director of Biloxi Main Street, from Biloxi, Miss., was a little bit disappointed that the weather here was not much different than southern Mississippi.

Susie Salisbury, vice-president of community development from Charleston Area Alliance of Charleston, W.Va., loved Assiniboine Park.

“You can tell the city is under rebuild,” Salisbury said during the walking tour.

“There’s lots of history here, lots of the 1960s too and (looking at the True North Square construction site) you can also see lots of the future.”

Stan Henry, operations manager at the Kansas City Main Street Corridor Development Corp., said there are peculiar issues to every city that they have to deal with, but there are also many that are common to the downtown revitalization process everywhere.

“You guys have different ways of doing things in Canada because of infrastructure and government, but the reality is I think everyone understands for downtown revitalization there are some certain elements you are going to have to have,” he said.

“You need to create more housing and the struggle is to be able to make it equal, to include affordable housing.”

Henry said a new light-rapid-rail transit line into the Kansas City downtown is already having a positive impact on what he referred to as “nuisance” housing. It’s also encouraging corporate headquarters to move downtown after having vacated to the suburbs.

Walking along Graham Avenue during the lunch hour, with the usual mix of pedestrian traffic, Henry said, “one thing I appreciate about every Canadian city I have been to is the embracement of immigrant communities.

“I see it and you get that sense that they have a level of ownership in the community,” he said.