Sunday, August 3, 2008

Portage Avenue Part 1

Picture taken by niceheart. Note: Holt Renfrew closed in 2007.

Portage Place was built in 1987 after a long debate as to how to best rehabilitate North Portage Avenue.

Lloyd Axworthy, the driving force behind the Core Area Initiative in 1981, was the minister charged with the federal response to Portage Avenue's decline. In 1980, Winnipeg was hit with a series of devastating economic hits. The Winnipeg Tribune had shut down as well as the Swift's and Canada Packers plants. It threw thousands out of work and that was just a few of the prominent businesses that closed during the recession at that time.

Axworthy spearheaded a tri-government agreement called the North Portage Development Corporation and although Axworthy advocated for an arena, the city rejected it in favour of an enclosed mall. A deal was signed but Axworthy was not there to follow it up. His government was ousted by Mulroney and while the Tories axed many of the Liberal projects in Winnipeg including the underpass at Waverley and the National Research Council lab on Ellice, they let the mall proceed.

It appears that the Portage Place land acquisition was too far along for Mulroney to cancel (although many thought the same thing about the NRC lab since the building was complete). Before Axworthy lost his job, he was able to get the funding and construction started on the Air Canada building at 355 Portage Avenue. It was completed in 1985, two years before Portage Place was constructed.

At the same time Portage Place was being constructed, Investors Group was looking to consolidate its people spread out over several offices in Winnipeg. For many years, they occupied elegant headquarters in a Broadway office tower built in 1962. Even now the building and design reminds one of the series Mad Men.

The new building, attached by skywalk to the mall, has peaked roof and a brick design. It was completed in the same year at Portage Place.

The concept behind the mall was to somehow bring retail success to the north side of Portage to mimic what was still happening on the south side. It was believed that connecting the north side by skywalks to The Bay and Eaton's would be key to that success.

(to be continued)

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