In collaboration with several organizations and decades of community demands, the West Broadway Tenants Committee (WBTC) developed and recently released a plan to convert the site of the former Portage Place mall into a community centre.
The core aspirations of the plan include turning Portage Place into a non-profit community centre, creating affordable housing, replacing current security with a safety plan and ensuring the mall is Indigenous-owned.
WBTC started organizing when Toronto developer Starlight began a deal to take over Portage Place last year. When Starlight backed out, WBTC worked with people who serve downtown communities to collect and develop ideas for the space. The committee hosted a telephone town hall, organized by MP Leah Gazan, which attracted more than 1,600 calls.
“People are talking about the housing crisis. People are talking about food security. People are talking about real community safety,” Cam Scott, Communist Party of Canada candidate for Winnipeg South Centre, says.
“All of these (are) things that every councillor, every mayoral candidate should be concerned with. There’s an affirmative vision for how to address them in the Portage Place document.”
Daniel McIntyre Ward candidate Omar Kinnarath feels the plan must be put into action.
“I feel that this can be something that could be talked about with all three levels of government. What we learned from the Starlight debacle that happened was there is money available for the purchase and there is interest in maybe not a new development but a new vision for it,” Kinnarath says.
Mayoral candidate Shaun Loney also believes in the plan but says he’d like to see the redevelopment as an invitation to the government to help them address certain problems.
“Governments are exhausted from trying to keep up with responding to people who are in constant crisis,” Loney says. “I want to negotiate with the government and say Portage Place is an opportunity that, if we do this right, can (provide) significant assistance in helping reduce (their) workloads in all these systems.”
Mary Burton, executive director and co-founder of Fearless R2W, wants Indigenous ownership to be given special consideration.
“Now that the city is trying to sell it off, I think that it should be sold to Indigenous groups. Who better to take over that land and that property and build it up to what it needs to be other than people who are going to be utilizing it themselves?” Burton says.
Another supporter is Andrée Forest, the project coordinator of the Manitoba Research Alliance (MRA) at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The MRA is a group of academic researchers, students and community partners that funds community-based research, including the State of the Inner City Report, which helped drive this proposed plan for Portage Place.
Forest says part of the plan is to have a space where other community organizations can exist and host programming for all ages.
“I think it’s in students’ interest to be a good neighbour and to support the communities that they’re studying in and to make sure they ask their elected officials what do you think about Portage Place and how can we make it reflect the needs of the community?”
University of Winnipeg students will soon have that chance. Manitoba’s upcoming municipal election is on Oct. 26.
Published in Volume 77, Number 06 of The Uniter (October 20, 2022)