Another downtown upgrade

Will the Sports Hospitality and Entertainment District plan return downtown to its 1945 vibrancy?

More of the same or a saving grace? Winnipeg’s proposed Sports Hospitality and Entertainment District will build itself around the MTS Centre downtown and include restaurants, sidewalk improvements and an expansion of the convention centre. Kaitlyn Emslie Farrell

By way of larger sidewalks and new restaurants, the Sports Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED) means to reinvigorate downtown Winnipeg’s former crime-free, cosmopolitan splendour.

New construction slated for 2012 includes a food and entertainment emporium, street and sidewalk improvements and an expansion of the Convention Centre.

Jino Distasio, director of University of Winnipeg’s Institute of Urban Studies, said SHED has been a long time coming.

“Winnipeg, unlike other Canadian cities, has been trying to develop the downtown area for 30 sustained years,” he said. “We have tried everything and anything to revitalize the area.”

In the 1980s, with downtown revitalization intentions similar to SHED, City Place and Portage Place were opened. SHED has been one many revitalization projects implemented over the years, adds Distasio. 

“The downtown has had to reinvent itself so many times over the last 50 years,” he said. “At one point, it used to be the only area for movies, but that was displaced in the ‘90s with Cineplex.”

However, Distasio emphasizes SHED is nothing new.

“The old archive building was once an auditorium, the Great West Life building was once a stadium where the Bombers played,” he said. “I don’t think we are creating anything new here, we are simply moving back to what downtown was 70 years ago.”

Distasio’s only quibble with the development is its name.

“If we are branding the district we need to find something sexier than SHED,” he said. “We are trying to create a district and an identity for drawing people downtown.”

Distasio also believes the space should be accessible to as many people as possible.

“It should not be thought of as some exclusive enclave for suburban people who come and go to events,” he said. “The downtown is, and always has been, about a mixture of people.”

The income generated from SHED should also feed back into the downtown community, Distasio added.

“One thing we have to consider is how all this economic growth is going to affect people,” he said. “We need to figure out a way to use taxes generated from this to help the inner city - to turn the lives around of people in Winnipeg.”

Ross McGowan, CEO of the Centre Venture development corporation, said new development will influence a reduction in downtown crime.

“Activity, density and people are the keys here,” he said. “Ultimately, if we put more people on the street it should reduce the crime.”

McGowan hopes the development will restore the downtown to its former vigour.

“Part of the objective is to restore that 1945 vibrancy,” he said. 

Though Centre Venture has been committed to downtown development for some time, McGowan holds the return of the Jets to be paramount to the project’s acceleration.

“The Jets are the icing on the cake for us,” he said. “We have been at this for a couple years now, but the Jets helped push the SHED over the top.”

Published in Volume 66, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 2, 2011)

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