In 2004, Lloyd Axworthy, former federal cabinet minister and creator of the University of Winnipeg’s Institute for Urban Studies, took the position of president and vice-chancellor at the U of W.
Since then, U of W property space has more than doubled, adding to the university’s monopoly of the downtown core and business community.
Taking on Winnipeg’s crumbling downtown, Axworthy believes that with the expansion of the university and his knowledge of urban development, the area is on the verge of some major changes.
“When I came here, I really inherited a strategic plan in which the university had to substantially upgrade its facilities and, secondly, accommodate student growth from 6,000 to 9,000 students,” said Axworthy, now working on the June opening of the Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex.
This strategic plan included the transformation of traffic-heavy Spence Street into a pedestrian mall, as well as a new theatre building and science complex.
Mark Golden, a professor of classics at the U of W, has seen the university change a lot since he began working here in 1970, but not always for the better.
“Lloyd is tremendously effective in the sense that he’s been able to do things the (previous U of W presidents) wanted,” Golden said. “These are very important things; on the other hand, there’s part of what the university does in terms of building housing for students that we don’t have the money to do ... and it should be done by the federal government. A lot is left to us to do.”
Golden is worried that the expansion of the university has taken focus away from the academic quality of the institution.
“At the same time we built this new residence ... the acquisitions budget for the library was cut to one quarter of what it was a few years ago,” added Golden.
Axworthy believes the expansion will help increase the attractiveness of the university.
“I think it’s enhanced the (academic) value substantially,” he said. “We’re getting four or five times the applications of people coming from other places ... because people want to come here and do work in the newest science facility in the country.”
Business as usual
With the opening of the AnX in the old Greyhound station on Portage Avenue in the coming months, there will be many new facilities for students and area residents.
A new bookstore, medical clinic and tavern will occupy the space, across the street from a new Stella’s Cafe and Bakery location in the Buhler Centre.
Concerns have been raised about the future of the student-run Soma Café, as the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) tried to cease its operations for the upcoming year.
The café has been losing money since it opened three years ago, and the addition of new food and beverage facilities on campus has been seen as the final nail in their coffin, according to some current members of the UWSA executive.
Other businesses in the area, like Homer’s Restaurant and the Lo Pub and Bistro, have seen increased traffic in the past few years from more students on campus.
“I don’t think it will take business away, I think it’ll be business for everybody. ... (Students) are going to eat on campus and on Ellice and it will be more busy,” said George Katsabanis, owner of Homer’s.
While Katsabanis has operated his restaurant for 32 years and knows what it’s like to have a lot of competition, the Lo Pub has owned the bar scene in the area with no direct competitors.
When the new bar opens in the AnX, Lo Pub manager Jack Jonasson could see some of his clientele favouring the new space, but isn’t concerned.
“I’m not really worried,” said Jonasson. “We’ve been around for three years – people know what we do and people like what we do. ... There’s a certain crowd that will stick here and a certain crowd that will go there.”
Gloria Cardwell-Hoeppner, executive director of the West End BIZ, shares Jonasson’s feelings.
“The expansion at the U of W is great because it brings in more people, more students living the in area, working in the area, frequenting the businesses,” she said. “It adds to the safety of the area, property values go up and it’s a totally spin-off effect.”
Published in Volume 65, Number 25 of The Uniter (March 31, 2011)