Imagining Portage and Main

Panel discussion invited Winnipeggers to envision the future of the iconic intersection

Tim Tompkins, president and CEO of the Times Square Alliance, at the media scrum on Thursday, Feb. 4 before the public forum later that day.

Photo by Simeon Rusnak

On Feb. 4, Winnipeggers were invited to envision the future of Portage and Main in a panel discussion at the Fairmont Hotel. 

Imagine Portage and Main featured planning expert Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance in New York, Jenny Gerbasi, city councillor for Fort Rouge - East Fort Garry, John Kiernan, the director of Planning, Property and Development with the City of Winnipeg and Angela Mathieson, CentreVenture Development Corporation President and CEO. 

“I imagine our downtown the way we want it to be – bustling and vibrant,” Gerbasi says. 

“It takes political will to make that change.” 

Portage and Main has been closed to pedestrians since 1979 when the city installed concrete barricades around the intersection in an effort to bring people to the underground Winnipeg Square. The 40-year agreement with property owners in the underground shopping mall at the site expires in 2019. 

“Yes, it’s about pedestrians,” Kiernan said, explaining that the project “needs to make sense to all of the partners as we go forward.” 

CentreVenture’s Mathieson indicated that Winnipeg has a large downtown of three square kilometers, but that there is a lack of pedestrians in this location. 

“If we can open the intersection, I think it also opens a whole range of possible further development.” 

She said that opening the intersection will allow for more connectivity with several areas of downtown such as the Exchange District, the MTS Centre, The Forks and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 

Guest speaker Tim Tompkins led the planning and redesign of Times Square in New York City, a project that reshaped a congested traffic area into a pedestrian plaza. 

Speaking to a full room, Tomkins was adamant he was not offering specific solutions for Winnipeg, but highlighted the similarities between Times Square and Portage and Main. He recognized that the intersection is a hub for Winnipeg. 

“For a place that is the hub of a city, how do you find the right balance between keeping traffic flowing, between creating a great pedestrian environment, that’s gonna help all the business and help make this an icon for the city that it’s always been.” 

The forum concluded with a question period in which some participants offered suggestions such as a city referendum, public consultations with downtown residents, and a reminder that part of the city’s core identity is the fact that it is in Treaty One territory. 

The forum was organized and hosted by Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and Exchange District BIZ and its partners CentreVenture Development Corporation, the City of Winnipeg, Fairmont Winnipeg, Storefront MB and the Winnipeg Free Press. 

The organizers invited the public to visit the storyboard exhibit located in the underground that depicts designs and concepts over several decades and shows design proposals for the opening of the intersection.

Published in Volume 70, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 11, 2016)

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