Shopping malls have their fans as well as detractors.
Winnipeg had one of the earliest malls in Canada with Polo Park built in 1959. Most people don't know that name came from the old Polo Park Racetrack that existed on the property before it became a retail area.
Once the racetrack was torn down, two open air strip malls were constructed facing one another. It was called Polo Park. In 1963 a roof was added and the mall became one of the first enclosed malls in North America.
I think many people in northern climates saw the benefit in the idea when it first came out. Anyone who had to trudge the cold distance between The Bay and Eaton's on south Portage Avenue will tell you that. Still, as the mall became more and more of an attraction for shoppers, it caused the slow demise of downtown retail shopping.
In Winnipeg, that decline was assisted by a number of factors such as one way traffic on streets to help with flow. In essence, it made people pass by retailers fast as well. So fast, in fact, that they kept driving past those stores until they either closes or joined the exodus to the suburbs. We'll save that for another post though.
Back to malls. Well, what can one say about Manitoba's largest mall? Well, for one, like a lot of malls it is ugly. Even the 1986 expansion did little to make the outside appearance nicer. The Eaton's and Sears buildings did nothing for their exteriors and overall look even today is a mix-matched brick. By comparison St. Vital Centre was positively gorgeous right from its construction in 1979 to its renovation in 1998. It has the same brick facade and looks far more open that Polo Park's wall of brick.
Just as a side note, both Polo Park's and St. Vital Centre's websites suck. They should have makeovers and Polo Park's should have some history to it.
Any hope that Polo Park will be beautified has been lost forever due to parking decks that are on the eastern and northern parts of the lot. The city planners forced the parking decks on the mall in 1986 and later on when Silver City was constructed where the old Chi-Chi's and Fingers restaurants were (anyone remember those?). I can't recall when Silver City went up at Polo Park. Anyone out there remember? I'm going to say 1990s. In any event, while the city knew that Polo Park didn't have enough parking for a mall double in size, they let the construction proceed so long as a second story parking deck was added. I think everyone would have to agree that the parking deck that was built has to be the ugliest and most ill-conceived contraption ever attached to a mall.
With the old Winnipeg Arena now torn down and the CKY building sold, I expect we are going to see an addition to the mall in the form of a mall extension or of additional retailers who like to be near malls but not in them. Some hope for an IKEA at the old arena site but the company has strongly denied that. Whatever goes there, it will add to the congestion along poor old Omand's Creek, especially if a further addition is made to the parking deck. Empress was never meant to take the traffic flow it does now.
Continued in Part 2.
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