Mountain Equipment Co-Op's bike racks on Portage Avenue
Back of Mountain Equipment Co-op.
Front of Mountain Equipment Co-op.
4Play Sports Bar inside.
As mentioned in part Portage Part 6, the conversion of a part time nightclub across from the MTS Centre into 4Play Sports Bar is evidence that private businesses along North Portage are starting to capitalize on the many people that the arena attract.
However, building a restaurant or club near the MTS Centre is no guarantee of success. The Rinkside Restaurant & Bar went belly up just as 4Play was getting ready to open. Perhaps the long wait for the Manitoba Hydro building to open was the nail that eventually caused it to go under. The south side Portage location of the Rinkside restaurant seems a good location. It remains to be seen whether someone else will take up the mantle of operating there.
Closer to the MTS Centre, another restaurant Samurai has opened in the Newport building on the south side. We'll see if this particular restaurant and its style is of greater success.
However, back to North Portage...
The 4Play sports bar across the street from the MTS Centre is a good start to change Portage away from full on retail at the street level to entertainment and hospitality. Certainly, there will always be room for an exclusive retailer such as Mountain Equipment Co-op to set up shop but the days of expecting such businesses to do so is long gone.
There has been talk about an entertainment district for a few decades now. Many of the announcements regarding the old movie theater such as the Metropolitan have been merely teases. The Capitol theater is no longer around, the Garrick theater has been converted into facilities and venues in support of its new owner The Marlborough Hotel. The Garrick's conversion looks good but I have not stayed at the Marlborough or used the Garrick Centre. Some of the reviews of the hotel though are enough to give many people pause.
And let's not forget about the Metropolitan theatre. It remains an open question what will happen there.
Still, the idea of an entertainment district is a sound one if the private sector is the main backer. At present, it looks like the Chipman family through its Longboat Development Corporation is in talks to create that district from the properties on North Portage that were formerly the Mitchell-Copp building, the A & B Sound building and the Wild Planet building.
A hotel is one of the things that is being proposed for the site.
1950 picture of Mitchell Copp building and former A & B Sound building
Mitchell Copp Building
Downtown Winnipeg covers such a large area compared to other cities. Subsequently, this has meant that development has taken place in a scatter-gun approach where one moment there is a focus on Main Street and then that focus shifts and then shifts again.
There were no geographic blocks such as the Red River and Assiniboine River that limited the downtown from spreading north and west. Retailing along Portage Avenue essentially stretched to the city limits. The Bay and Eaton's were separated by a couple of blocks walking. From very early on, Winnipeg lacked a Herald Square such as New York where Macy's and Gimbels faced off across the street from one another in New York.
South Portage Avenue managed to have a fairly vital retail sector even through the 1980s while alarm was being raised much earlier on about how the northside seemed to be struggling and in fact, had a few properties that were either vacant or had been demolished altogether. To be sure there were a few areas which were bright spots such as Kennedy Street where StageWest Dinner Theatre did well. The Free Press building was still very active and most people still went to downtown movie theatres such as the Capitol and the Garrick.
North Portage though remained a seedier and emptier counterpart to the southside and was one of the main factors in the tri-partite effort of the three levels of governments to change the dynamic.
Portage Place was deemed the answer and while it had some good aspects such an Imax Theatre, Prairie Theatre Exchange and some movie theatres, the retail component turned inwards rather than outwards to Portage. Aside from having more stores open to the street, it appears that there is little to do about mall now. It will remain a challenge barring any major renovation.
It is hoped that the Manitoba Hydro building will help the mall and surrounding area. It is hard to say just how much that will happen during working hours. It probably won't hurt. It is something that will have to be judged over the next year.
At the moment though, now that the Hydro building has been completed, the attention is now on private investors and what they might do along Portage. The announcement on the Boyd Building which came in very late 2008 and still not been fully realized. While the investors in the Boyd indicated that they had fully leased it, they have fallen short of their million dollar renovation that was to include a parking lot.
It is not the first time that private investors have announced plans for Portage and then backed off. For a time, a hotel was planned for atop Portage Place and some prep work begun before the whole process fell apart.
In recent months, a few announcements have been made a few tangible investments made on the northside of Portage. Probably the most welcome addition is a sports bar across the street in the old Blush Ultra Club location. Unlike the old nightclub, 4play Sports Bar and Entertainment Zone is open every day at of the week from lunch till late.
At 19,000 feet of space, 4play is well suited to attract a good number of people who might gather for MTS events. It is also well positioned to be an attractive destination for World Cup soccer or any other sports such as NHL games and play-offs.