Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Shopping

Sun photo of Dave Angus advocating Sunday shopping.

The Sun is reporting that the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is asking for a loosening of the Sunday shopping rules.

There was some controversy when shopping was first allowed but Manitobans have voted with their feet. Go to any shopping mall or grocery store and see the crowds.

The Chamber has asked for a modest change of perhaps two to three hours more.

The idea should be reviewed.

Those that do not wish to work on Sunday or shop on Sunday should not be forced to. However, those that do want to work or shop on that day should receive consideration too.

My view is that Sunday shopping should be allowed without restriction. Let the market decide what works well for them as they did when many stores decided to close 30 minutes earlier each night rather than stay open till 9:30.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Howard Johnson Airport Shut Down

After a CBC investigation, the Howard Johnson hotel on Ellice was shut down after not meeting fire code rules.

The hotel reviews for this particular hotel have done Winnipeg no favours over the years. It appears social services have been using the hotel as a long term stay for people in need. It shows.

It is surprising that Howard Johnson allows their name to be associated with this ramshackle and now dangerous place.

All things considered, the hotels around the airport have improved over the years. The Sandman Hotel, Sheraton Four Points, Hilton Suites, Comfort Inn, Greenwood Inn and Victoria Inn have either just been built or have been renovated to improve their competitiveness.

The Howard Johnson has probably lured more than one unsuspecting airport patron. It is time the name was stripped from this substandard building.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Exchange District Housing

Winnipeg Free Press photo of the Exchange redevelopment talked about for Market and James Avenue.

Second Free Press photo of Portage and Main parkade

Hot on the heels of the Union Bank Tower conversion to housing comes the news that Qualico is talking to Nygaard about the six buildings they own downtown. The proposal by Qualico would see housing put on the upper floors with retail on the main floors.

Once again, as with every development, the issue of parking comes up. The city may be on the hook for a 450 car parkade. I am wondering if the parkade financing might come from the sale of the city owned parkade at Portage and Main. The 978 car parkade is a money spinner for the city which has been used as a piggy bank over many years. The premise on which the city wishes to sell the facility is that they want to pay off the parking authorities debt and use the money for other city facilities. The problem is this: the debt was created by the city by taking money out of the parking authority in the first place.

There are a lot of questions to be asked in regards to selling the parkade but it just being rushed through.

More on the parking issue again soon as the story is still in flux.

In principle though, additional housing for downtown is great. However, many people got excited about Nygaard's investment back when it happened as well. A lot of times there are big dreams indicated but no follow through from public or private sectors.

Here's wishing that Qualico's intentions reach fruition.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Union Bank Tower

Picture from the Free Press of the Union Tower

The Union Bank Tower's conversion probably owes a lot of its redevelopment money to the need for stimulus investment in today's economy. The funding of Red River College's culinary school in the abandoned Royal Bank building would have likely remained on the wish fulfillment list but timing is everything.

The $27 million retrofitting has been talked about for a while but in October, the Tory government was in town bearing gifts along with other levels of government. Paterson GlobalFoods, a local grain company and the Winnipeg Foundation have also committed a good chunk of change.

It should be noted that the Winnipeg Foundation has probably done more for urban renewal in Winnipeg than many others with money donated to the Centennial neighbourhood and to the Central Park district.

The Union Tower, situated beside City Hall, promises to be one of the more transformative redevelopments in Winnipeg. The 107 year old skyscraper is listed as western Canada's oldest tower. It has stood empty many years now since the Royal Bank left for the siren call of being near Portage and Main.

Red River College's plan in a nutshell was to move its culinary school from its Notre Dame campus to the tower which would be perfect as a showcase for street level restaurants. The food prepared and served by students would cover fine dining (Jane's Restaurant), casual dining (Hard Drive Cafe) and take out (Grab-and-Go).

The stimulus funding that is being showered all over Canada made it possible to go ahead with the work.

One of the more interesting aspects of the project is that it includes student housing. The upper floors of the tower will be converted to a 100 bed student residence.

In one stroke, this project will fill a historic tower with people that will be present 24 hours a day.

Some has said this project will not necessarily do anything for the downtown and cites the University of Winnipeg as an example. This was countered by a letter from the University of Winnipeg.

However, Galston's suggestion that the University of Winnipeg has not had a "good effect" on the local community is not only dead wrong; it completely ignores the facts. If Galston actually took the time to walk south of Ellice Avenue today, he would see community renewal in action: a vibrant, pedestrian mall on Spence Street and a front lawn teeming with students, faculty and local residents alike; a basketball court regularly used by children and youth from the local neighbourhood; a brand new building called McFeetors Hall, home not only to nearly 200 students, but dozens of families from the local community, and a new day care centre -- one of the largest in Manitoba -- serving children not only of students, but from the community as well. On the north side of Ellice, he would see the Helen Betty Osborne building, home to the Wii Chi Waakanak learning centre (a community computer lab) and the Global Welcome Centre for immigrants and refugees, many of whom live in the neighbourhood.

The truth is that both writers are right... and wrong.

It is true that the University of Winnipeg has made strides in the last several years. However, this community mindedness was hampered severely by cutbacks in the 1980s. It was back then that the last of the University of Winnipeg dorms were closed to make space for other uses for the university. Similarly, apartment blocks on Spence were taken over for a daycare and Menno Simons College. While the daycare and the college were both worthy additions, the university began to lose population after hours and weekends.

For a university to be vital at all times, it needs people there at all times. The loss of the dorms and students living nearby was painful. The opening of McFeetor's Hall Residence this past fall brings 175 residents downtown. Likewise, the university's four houses on Balmoral Street keep students close to campus where they make use the neighbourhood services.

The Red River College plan for housing at the Union Tower ensures that people will not just be present during business hours. That alone will be a change downtown.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Selinger's Choices

So much for people rumoured to stepping down.

The new cabinet jumps from 18 to 19 people. Many stayed in their old job. As predicted Bill Blaikie and Jennifer Howard were named to cabinet.

Some predicted that Flor Marcelino would get a spot and she did.

As listed by the CBC, here is what they are responsible for:

* Jennifer Howard, minister of labour and immigration and minister responsible for persons with disabilities.
* Bill Blaikie, minister of conservation.
* Flor Marcelino, minister of culture, heritage and tourism.

Rosann Wowchuk becomes Finance Minister, the first woman to hold that position.
Steve Aston becomes Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation.

Some other cabinet changes included:

* Andrew Swan, minister of justice and attorney general.
* Stan Struthers, minister of agriculture, food and rural initiatives.
* Kerri Ivin-Ross, minister of housing and community development.
* Eric Robinson
, minister of aboriginal and northern affairs.
* Jim Rondeau, minister of healthy living, citizenship and youth
* Peter Bjornson, minister of entrepreneurship, training and trade.
* Dave Chomiak, minister of innovation, energy and mines.
* Nancy Allen, minister of education.
* Ron Lemieux, minister of local government.

There were no changes to:

Teresa Oswald (health), Gord Mackintosh (family services), Diane McGifford (advanced education) and Christine Melnick (water stewardship) remain in charge of their respective portfolios.

It still feels like Gary Doer's government but some of the charm that Doer had is just not going to be there. It is probably going to take a little while for people to get to know Selinger.

The mere absence of Doer makes some ridings competitive for the Progressive Conservatives.

Given the large cabinet, the PCs can probably find some weak performers to critique and put into question the performance of the government. It is a while to the election and some major issues of the economy could give the NDP its first real test in years.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

CBC News

I waited a bit to CBC News on both radio and television. Aside from a new a music intro for the radio news, it hasn't changed much. CBC's The National and CBC Newsworld had had significant changes though, not the least of which is renaming it to CBC News Network.

Much of the media has made light of the lack of chairs for all of the CBC News programs. They have a point. Some may recall when Peter Kent used to stand by a podium. It was an experiment that didn't last.

I think the thing many people have noticed is the busy background of swirling graphics.

In terms of content, the National is still presenting the news as they have but it seems more geared to who is delivering the news. In other words, Peter Mansbridge is interacting more with the correspondents, sometimes in the studio.

As the days passed, they have stopped Peter from roaming around the National studio floor as much as he did in the first day.

I'll wait a few more weeks to assess again but CBC's National News now ranks third in the country for national newscasts.

I hold off on commentary on the new Politics show and the new business show with Lang and O'Leary.

As for CBC's News at 6, I find it repetitive. Given 90 minutes, I'd expect a little difference in each half hour. It would be nice to see a local politics panel once a week or a review of entertainment rather than a constant refrain of the the same stuff.

It is good to see a late night local CBC News again but it is a pale comparison to what they used to have for late night.

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