Downtown Winnipeg Highlights from 2016

2016 was a fantastic year for downtown Winnipeg. Reduced crime, increased cleanliness, and added community support have continued to shape the downtown into a great place to play, shop, and live. Here are ten highlights from 2016 to celebrate as the year comes to a close.

 

  1. Sizzling Summer Events

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The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ hosted 230 events between June and October, attracting over 50,000 visitors to the downtown! From Zumba to movie screenings, festivals to concerts, there was truly something for everyone.

 

  1. Times Square Expert Takes On Portage and Main

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This February, president and CEO of Times Square Alliance Tim Tompkins came to the Fairmont Winnipeg to discuss opening Portage and Main to pedestrians. Tompkins played a huge role in turning Times Square into the tourist destination that it is today, and his perspective on Portage and Main provided a proven vision for the future of this iconic intersection.

 

  1. Police Unveil New Downtown Safety Strategy

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In mid-December, Winnipeg Police Service announced a new strategy to patrol the downtown. With a combination of modern technology and “walking the beat,” the new strategy will increase the presence of officers and foster a heightened sense of community. We look forward to seeing it in action.

 

  1. Manyfest Continues to Grow and Impress

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Seventy thousand people enjoyed the sixth annual Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Manyfest from September 9 to 11. The event celebrates arts, entertainment, community, and healthy living. The Food Truck Wars, presented by ROYALE Tiger Towel, was a particularly tasty highlight again.

 

  1. Canada Day Living Flag Still the Biggest

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Over 3,158 people gathered at Shaw Park on Canada Day to create a living flag, and we’re proud to say it was the biggest in the country! Shout-out to all the participants who made this event one for the record books.

 

  1. Pop-Up at Portage and Main

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From June to September, all four corners of Portage and Main hosted pop-up events on the last Friday of the month. Pedestrians experienced an exciting variety of events and entertainment in Canada’s famous intersection.

 

  1. #finditdowntown

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In May, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ won Marketing Campaign of the Year (over $2,500) at the Winnipeg Tourism Awards of Distinction. Our social media platforms are doing better than ever at informing followers, capturing moments, and celebrating all that downtown Winnipeg has to offer.

 

  1. Host it Downtown

 

The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s “Host It Downtown” program aims to increase the number of events downtown. It was founded in 2015, and in 2016, we attracted new and existing events like the Manitoba Filipino Street Festival, SpaceLand, and Peg City St. Patrick’s Day Parade to our downtown. Perhaps we could host your next event?

 

  1. CHAT Program Better than Ever

 

The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s Community Homeless Assistance Team (CHAT) received increased support this year, with an annual investment of $120,000 from Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries and $150,000 from the City of Winnipeg.

 

The CHAT program provides support to downtown Winnipeg’s vulnerable populations, including homeless people and/or people struggling with addictions or mental health issues.

 

  1. True North Square announced

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In February, True North unveiled plans for True North Square, a $400 million development featuring businesses, hospitality and entertainment, residential space, outdoor rinks, and more.

 

Construction is already underway, and the end product will show again how much our downtown has to offer those who want to live, work, and play in this bustling area that continues to grow with opportunity.

Something’s Happening on Graham

Graham’s a street that sometimes gets overlooked – it’s not as prominent as Portage, not as big and full of food trucks as Broadway, and because a lot of it is designed for transit and bikes, not that many of us drive down it every day. But over the last little while, I’ve seen it changing piece by piece around Kennedy – and it’s gradually transforming into one of my favourite little blocks downtown! If you’ve never explored it, go check it out on your lunch hour – it’s worth checking out these spots that are new to the block.

Seeing the downtown grow doesn’t always mean massive exciting skyscrapers – although I love seeing those go up too! It’s the building of these little intimate neighbourhoods too, places that draw people to walk around that make the sidewalks fill up with people, and I think their successes are worth celebrating.

Art:

There are murals tucked in between the buildings, including a cute mural tucked away beside Second Cup with adorable helicopter bees (I really don’t know what else to call them). It’s also the street when the incomparable Kal Barteski installed her Love Every Body interactive artwork – I went down to take a selfie, and you should too!

There’s an amazing farmers market:

The Downtown Farmers’ Market started here last year. The plaza behind Manitoba Hydro Places is already a great place to sit for lunch when it’s sunny, but when the Thursday market comes out, it’s packed with people like looking for an excuse to leave the office for lunch and buy fresh-baked cookies!

Constantly changing menus at Sana SoupHouse:

They’ve been there less than a year and already I’m not sure what I’d do without their soup of the day list when it’s a rainy day and I need a cozy lunch. Plus, how many places in the city actually have soups like Chilled Strawberry, West African Peanut, and Pumpkin Apple Spice?

Rare finds at Bison Books:

This used & rare book shop relocated here a few years ago, and I never get tired of visiting it to see what literary oddities they’ve dug up. My favourite recent find, courtesy of their Facebook page: Elvis’ Favourite Recipes.

A new shop has popped up:

Pop-up events and pop-ups shops are all over the downtown this year, and I can’t get enough of it! The latest – Chook, at the corner of Graham & Vaughn, which has clothing, skateboards, and comes complete with a skateboard ramp inside! It wasn’t open when I was there, so I shamelessly peered in the windows to take pics.

 

The Urban Bakery is back home on Graham:

After nearly 10 years on Portage Ave, the Urban Bakery renovated a space on Graham and added a ton of creative touches, from a shoe wall to a handcrafted wood slab checkout counter, to an entrance that leads off the back alley!

It’s coffee heaven:
Alright, these aren’t new, but they’re essential! There are no fewer than 3 coffee places within this block: Starbucks, Second Cup, and the independent coffee house Twist Cafe. Second best of all, they all come with patio areas to sit and sip in the sun. Best of all – the Second Cup names their plants.

Graham Ave Second Cup

 

The Future of the Forks

I can’t really wrap my head around it, but not so very long ago, this was the Forks. Winnipeg only started redeveloping it in 1989(!)

Hard to imagine, right? It’s such an iconic piece of our city now, that when I think of it, all I see is this:

With one exception – the massive gravel parking lots, aka Parcel 4 and the Railside area. I know that they get filled up sometimes, when Canada Day and New Year’s Eve rolls around. But realistically, most of the time they’re a big fat eyesore next door to the best public space in the whole country. Kind of a shame. And finally, that looks like it might change! After the waterpark got a thumbs-down, The Forks has been leading a planning process to figure out what should go there, and a few days ago they revealed their preliminary concepts. Here’s what this parking lot could change into in a few short years….drumroll….

The whole area is beautifully green looking, but filled with projects designed to make sure it’s appealing & full of people. That includes high-rise residential, main floors that will encourage pedestrians like places to get food, retail shops, galleries, artisan or cultural spaces. There’s a terraced park and an urban plaza for the public. There will be an area reserved for a future cultural or community space, and in one of my favourite details, land will be reserved for public art. (and yes, there are going to be a couple of parkades)

It’s not 100% yet, but it looks like this plan has a lot of support. It got the thumbs-up from a civic committee yesterday, and personally, I’m pulling for it (that’s got to count for something, right?) You can check out more of the concepts at the their website here. It’s SUCH a dramatic change that it’s hard to even wrap your head around how quickly this could happen – but then again, if I’d seen the picture of the Forks in the 80’s, I don’t think I could have imagined what it would be today.

So tell me – what do you think of the plan for The Forks?

 

From parking spaces to parking lots

There seems to be all kinds of temporary transformation going on this month in parking places downtown. During the Design Festival, it was Park(ing) Day, where spaces for cars were changed into places to sit and have a coffee, do some work, or enjoy art.

This past weekend, it was at Nuit Blanche. Now Nuit Blanche doesn’t actually have anything to do with parking lots – it’s an all-night celebration of contemporary art. Exhibits pop up for an evening and are gone by morning, galleries stay open all night, and parties break out in unexpected spots! And this year, two of the events that really stood out to me were in – of all places – parking lots.

Normally I spend a lot of my time on here letting you guys know about cool events, restaurants, and news – but I’m going to get on my soapbox for a minute here if that’s OK.

We’ve got a LOT of surface parking lots downtown – in my opinion, way more than we need or should have. Check this out – a handy map of them that architect Brent Bellamy created a while ago.

Red = surface parking lots
Red = surface parking lots

Everything red is a surface parking lot – spaces that are basically dead zones. There’s no activity beyond people pulling their cars in and out, no pedestrian activity at all. To me, they’re basically giant mood-killers to walk by.

Except last Saturday – two of my very favourite exhibits of Nuit Blanche turned them into places jammed with people. First, glow in the park(ing) lot. I was excited to see if before, and it didn’t disappoint – there were kids, adults, at one point a party on wheels of 300 cyclists with a portable sound system, all out and enjoying a space that’s normally a sea of empty concrete and cars! People were walking and cycling to and from it – you could really imagine what it would be like if this was a space that was meant for people instead of parking. photo2

And then there was this fabulous madness – called electric kool-aid almond test (because why not).

photoSeriously, can you believe this is a parking lot? It’s the lot behind the Deer + Almond – and for one night, it was also a concert venue, an art gallery, and a gathering place.

So, how can we change some of these lots into places for people permanently? Cause now that I’ve seen what they CAN be, I don’t want to go back. /end soapbox

A totally unscientific poll on the Portage & Main crossing

Behold – the beginning of the Portage & Main underground concourse, and a looong debate.

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The idea of Portage & Main being reopened to the public seems to resurface every few years to me – but over the last few days/weeks it seems like the discussion’s gotten bigger than ever, because in just a few years there might be an option to take down the barriers. Result: this news article, this one, and these ones too, plus a whole lot of debate in the comments and on twitter.

I’ve heard pros and cons, and if I were going to cast my vote, I’m all on board with opening it! I admit, when it gets chilly walking in the winter I’m the first to scurry to the walkways and underground – but in the long run walking with people next to on the street is SO much more inviting! Having all the pedestrian traffic at Portage & Main underground makes it basically invisible – and a corner with no people on it is a whole lot less appealing to walk down.

The second part of the debate has been what kind of crossing to create, if it were to open up. And that’s the very unscientific poll I want to take – should it be:

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So, what’s your vote?

What should be built at the Forks?

They want to know what you think! And I KNOW lots of people have an opinion on this – after all, the Forks is one of the most beloved spots in the entire city. Forks Railside aerial_wide_home_yellow

There are two big spaces – Parcel Four (where there was talk of a waterpark and hotel) and another site called Railside, and they want to hear from the public about what should be developed there. If you can’t picture it, you can see the sites by clicking here (they’re the highlighted spots in the picture right there)

They’re hosting a public info session tomorrow evening- that’s at The Forks Market, from 6:30 to 9 p.m., Wednesday, June 19
– so come out and share your thoughts! More info on how to RSVP here

 

SoPo Square

I was out on the Rudy’s patio last summer with friends, looking over at that big parking lot behind the MTS Centre, and thinking just how awesome it would be if there were a whole bunch more restaurants and patios there we could wander over to. Excellent to read this morning that the dream of patio-hopping may come true!

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From the Winnipeg Free Press, March 12, 2013/Joe Bryska
Doug McKay displays images of the proposed development near the MTS Centre and the Winnipeg Convention Centre.

The new development is still being worked out, but it’s tentatively being called “So-Po” – short for South Portage –

And here’s what gets me excited about patio potential:

McKay and Scott Craig, Artis’s senior property development manager, said what sets the SoPo Square development apart from other downtown developments is the inclusion of a large, T-shaped, outdoor central plaza and three mini plazas around the perimeter of the development.

He and Craig said the initial vision for the plaza includes restaurants with outdoor patios on three sides of the plaza, a large portable stage at one end and light/sound towers at each of the four corners. The types of events that could be held there include outdoor concerts, fashion shows, corporate events and even an outdoor hockey rink.

One word for that – YAY!

What kind of restaurants would you like to see around a plaza like this?

Architects dreaming about downtown

I had something entirely different planned to write about, and then I saw this article in the Free Press yesterday, about architects dreaming of ideas for downtown as part of the Re-imagining Winnipeg project. And then I couldn’t dream of writing about anything else!

There are a lot of ideas you should check out, and there’s no limit to how ambitious the dreams are (rerouting the Assiniboine river to create a lake, anyone?) So I’m just going to talk about 3 that I really liked, but click over and read the rest and see the drawings when you’re done!

Alleyways becoming marketplaces:

Although many architects focus on buildings to breathe new life into a neighbourhood, Calnitsky Associates Architects chose instead to put their energies into repurposing the spaces between buildings. It is a plan to “fill in the missing teeth of downtown,” the architect said.

The result is two dramatic visions for alleys on Bannatyne Avenue east of Main Street. At 123 Bannatyne, an awning is suspended over the alley, creating a new and dynamic space for retail and food services. Cantilevered balconies jut into the air, and skywalks connect buildings for greater versatility. At 185 Bannatyne, the vision is similarly dramatic, with another articulated awning spanning a wide alley. More cantilevered patios, decks and skywalks create brand-new mixed-use space, including housing, with the ground floor teeming with food services and retail.

We’re SO lucky to have the heritage buildings we do in our city – why wouldn’t we want to make the most of the space around them? LOVE.

A Bat Box:

The “Bat Box” is a shipping-container sculpture added to the Wayward Bridge in Stephen Juba Park on Waterfront Drive. In this application, the containers become a man-made home for thousands of bats, which would be drawn to the structure by the intense heat conducted by the metal walls during daylight hours. At night, a mass exodus of bats would serve as a tourist attraction in and of itself, and bats are one of nature’s best consumers of Winnipeg’s most unwelcome insect, the mosquito.

OK, now I understand that a sculpture piece that’s home to hundreds of bats during the day may sound terrifying at first if you’re not Batman and/or Robin. However. I visited Austin, Texas a while ago, and one of the coolest things I saw there was the famous Bat Bridge. People gather to see them take off every night, and it’s just gorgeous.

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The bat bridge in Austin – surreal!

A street just for art

Colony Street would be closed to create a pedestrian mall. Adjustable, movable art containers fill out the new plaza, offering new adaptable spaces for the curation of visual art.

An added feature of the Colony Art Precinct is the establishment of “Artbus.” A fleet of patron-sponsored buses travel the city to bring schoolchildren to the art precinct. The buses are also works of art, literally “portable canvases” that offer a practical way of connecting children with the arts.

How many have you have been downtown for September’s Nuit Blanche? It’s an incredible all-night celebration of the arts all around the streets and galleries of downtown, and one of the biggest hubs is right around here. 5000 people go through the Winnipeg Art Gallery on this night alone, partying and appreciating art until 6am. Why not have it all year round?

The WAG during Nuit Blanche. And this was just on the ROOFTOP.
The WAG during Nuit Blanche. And this was just on the ROOFTOP. Imagine what the streets were like.

Again, there’s lots more ideas so go read them now and check out the pictures.

If you want to hear even more, there’s a forum tomorrow night at the Winnipeg Free Press cafe on McDermot where they’re going to talk about the proposals in details – 7pm, be there!

Sneak peek in the CMHR!

Last week I was thrilled to get a chance to take a peek inside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights! It’s still very much a construction site, of course, so I was all decked out in a hardhat and steel-toed boots (I think I pulled them off!), but I was amazed at how much has been done inside of it! I think the design on the outside is really original and spectacular, but I had a hard time forming a mental image of what the layout inside was going to be – not a problem anymore! Well, pictures are better than words to describe something like this building, so I snapped a whole lot of photos to share with all of you!

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The Met is open!

It’s been a long 25 years and 4 days exactly since the Met closed – but yesterday they opened up the doors again, and I was super lucky to be there! (I also think I got the best seat in the house, I’ll tell you why in a sec!)

I was too young to remember the Met when it was open last, but we got to see some of what it was like in a montage video – trust me when I say that there was a LOT of work to be done. It’s an incredible heritage building, so I was excited to see that they restored so much of how it used to look way back when it opened in the 20s! (I love the 70s and 80s as much as anyone, but I’m not too sad that the red and blue paint they covered all those gorgeous moldings with was taken off)

So what’s it look like now? Here are some of the pics from last night!

The big picture of what it looks like inside now!

The chandelier - it's the original!
The chandelier – it’s the original!
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The new bar at the back of the theatre

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And here’s why I think I lucked out with my seat. This last picture is by far the coolest one that I – or anyone else – has from the opening. This is Roger and his wife. Roger was the manager of the Met 43 years ago, in 1969, and I just happened to pick the seat next to him! I got to hang out and chat with him about what the Met was like back in those days. Did you know, for example, that there used to be a secret passage behind a movie ad that the staff used to get back behind the scenes? Thanks for telling me such awesome stories Roger, and welcome back to the Met! 🙂