Tuesday, March 29, 2011

IKEA Opens 2012

The future IKEA site

IKEA has finally announced that year that its store in Winnipeg will open in 2012. Originally, the date was given as between 2011 and 2013.

One only has to drive down Kenaston a few times to realize work has continued all winter on dismantling the rail tracks, the Clarke trucking depot and the Zirino's truck building are mostly dismantled. Other works has proceeded all around the proposed IKEA site.

There has been no indication of what building techniques will be used for the store when it goes up but their location going up in Denver, Colorado will be using geo-thermal and is aiming for zero emissions. It would be great if the store here makes that their same goal.

The CBC story mentions that a 16 screen movie theatre is a possible tenant for the site as well. The number mentioned seems to be very specific. One wonders if all we are waiting for there is an actual announcement.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Swiss Chalet Returns to Winnipeg

Update October 26. Swiss Chalet is now open

Swiss Chalet is a large Canadian restaurant chain founded in Toronto in 1954. The store is ubiquitous in Ontario along with its sister restaurant Harvey's, a hamburger joint.

Just over 12 years ago, Swiss Chalet and Harvey's retreated from the scene in Winnipeg save for an express location at the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport for both restaurants. That location is slated to close when airport functions shift to the new terminal. There doesn't seem to be a plan to open the concept when the move happens.

I have pointed out in this blog that development agencies should be looking for shops and restaurants that draw people. I am not sure why Swiss Chalet withdrew from the Winnipeg market years ago. Their location on Pembina Highway seemed to be well used. I can't say the same about their Harvey's location on the same street or the Home Depot locations. The restaurant chain never seemed to catch on in Manitoba.

The Yes! Winnipeg agency is taking credit for the $1.6 million Swiss Chalet restaurant coming to the city at the Kenaston Common location near Costco. The restaurant will employ about 80 people. Further city locations are hinted at.

The Yes agency has been around for three months and is taking credit for about there or four companies finding contacts, financing and the like to open in the city or expand operations. While some of the initial announcements are good, a really big fish is still to be caught. After a year, it will be interesting to see if a $50 to $100 million initiative lands in the city. Too often we have lost some of these projects to other cities.

I should point out that the worst meal I have had in the last several years was a Swiss Chalet dinner at the Toronto airport. Other family members says they weren't impressed by a mean at Swiss Chalet at Winnipeg's airport. I certainly hope that a full scale restaurant proves to be a more satisfactory food choice for people in the Kenaston area.

It would appear the restaurant opening at Kenaston Common will fill the last available space in that area. All eyes now turn to the Ikea site.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Shopper's Drug Mart Osborne Village

Shopper's Drug Mart in the Osborne Village

There was a brief mention in the newspaper and a blog post about this application by Shopper's Drug Mart and their expansion of their Osborne Village location on Roslyn Road.

The plan is to add 8,522 square feet to the present 10,048 square feet. This will change the store to a two floor format with few parking slots and a pedestrian access to the businesses behind it.

It is a good plan for a busy corner and a 24 hour store. Many people going to Shopper's now actually live close to the store and walk or bike to it. To this end, the store has said it will include bike racks for patrons.

More parking spaces is not always welcome. In this case, the increased commercial density and tips of the hat to pedestrians and people using bikes is a preferred option.

While the store expansion is a good thing, I hope the design is a little better than what is present now. By this I refer to the frosted windows. I believe the store should be much more open to the busy street than it is now. While I respect the need for privacy for the pharmacy, some of the rest of the store could stand to be visible through clear windows. I think this is an important feature for safety within the store as well as outside it. And given that the Osborne Village is increasingly a busy place 24 hours a day, it is good to show there is life in the building. Walking by the windows now is like walking past a blank wall.

Still, congratulations are in order to Shopper's for an approach that will make sense for the area. It will make the area even more attractive for people to live there.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Forever 21 Open in Winnipeg

One of my posts consistently sees traffic. It is the one where I talked about Forever 21 coming to Winnipeg months ago. It continues to see traffic now. As many with young kids know, the store finally opened on March 12 in Polo Park. At 38,000 feet, it is the largest of the chain's Canadian stores and only slightly smaller than its largest U.S. cousin. For Polo Park, the store's arrival has been a Godsend in that it must have seemed daunting about how they were going to fill Safeway's space after the store de-camped to Madison Square.

The store's early morning opening drew the largest crowd in Polo Park's history. Hundreds and hundreds lined up to get into the store.

Now, to be clear, Forever 21 is just a store. It isn't the second coming. However, like Ikea, Forever 21 is a highly sought out store by shoppers. It becomes a "destination" store capable of attracting people from a larger region than just the city where the store is located.

This should not be a mystery to anyone about how this happens. Most people know that when Upper Fort Garry was set up, it became a destination for trade.

And yet some who works in the halls of power seem mystified about this and other stores that can draw a crowd. We can't rely strictly on mall managers to seek out top retailers or restaurants to set up shop in the city. It is a business like any other and development agencies within the province should be going to them and making a case for their opening a store in the city. In this it is no different than when the agencies seeks out manufacturers or head offices to locate to the city and province.

Cabela's started off as a purchase of S.I.R. in Winnipeg. It is now the head office, warehouse and first store for the company in Canada.

Winnipeg has not been all to successful attracting head offices or big manufacturers in the last years. Or if they have, it certainly has been below the radar.

City and provincial officials should be making a shopping list of restaurants and stores and seek to bring them to to city. Menards would be a good start. To that end, they should find people who don't look bewildered when you say Forever 21.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Parking Rate Increases in Winnipeg

Sometimes I wonder if the world's so small
That we can never get away from the sprawl
Living in the sprawl
Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains

Arcade Fire

The announcement that the city will be increasing parking fees as well as the timeframe that payment will be required to be paid is likely to stir debate. The city has used the Winnipeg Parking Authority as a piggy bank for years and has not really put the money into upkeeping their parking infrastructure. And so it went with the Winnipeg Square parkade. The facility was not kept up as well as it as it should have been and was sold for a lesser value than it could have if it had been kept up. They money from the sale has been held in limbo ever since with the vague promise it will be spent downtown.

In a nutshell, the plan for the parking authority is to earn more money, reduce administrative costs and charge more for high traffic areas such as Broadway while increasing the time that payment is required. For Broadway this would mean that rates would double from $1 to $2 and the coverage would be from 8 AM to 8:30 pm. rather than 9 AM to 5:30 PM.

In a car obsessed world, many are unhappy with the state of parking. I have been hearing it pretty much when anyone mentions the downtown. They don't like paying. They don't like the parkades because they are afraid of driving in them. They don't parallel park because they aren't good at it. They don't like parking anywhere except close to where they are shopping or eating or visiting.

In districts where people are endlessly circling looking for a street parking space, it demonstrates the problem. The thought is that increasing the parking rates will make more people consider surface or parkade parking. Many economists argue against allowing free parking with one point being it hurts poor people.

People are going to react negatively to any increase in parking prices. However, removing any restrictions or price for on street parking creates a host of problems.

So what to do?

First is the recognize that regulating transportation is something that municipalities have to take some responsibility for. Even if everyone rides bikes, it can cause traffic jams and parking problems. See Utrect, Netherlands for an example.

If there were no parking restrictions of any kind around some of the hospitals, it is unlikely that there would be any parking available for kilometres.

So, is placing a price on parking the right solution for Winnipeg when it comes to the street? Well, according to some who live here, it is a surefire way to kill an area off. If we measure the exodus to the suburban mall world over the decades, it is hard not to agree. In a society where you live by the car, you die by the car.

Would it be possible for a city like Winnipeg to simply pull the parking meters and go to posted signs that listed timeframes for free on street parking? Well, the answer is yes. If the signs were well posted, unambiguous and part of a city-wide strategy that involved ticketing, towing and fines, it is possible that all the revenue lost from the meters would be recovered from allowing it to be "free."

Realistic parking times of three hours for some areas would be good. On street parking passes for overnight parking might be a revenue generator as well.

There are a few people who dislike the Winnipeg Parking Authority. Parking meters that don't work and confusion about the signs, meters or paying in general all add up to the resistance to the department.

It is probably time that a serious debate about the future of cars, parking and the city of Winnipeg was properly discussed. The discussion crosses into zoning, policing and culture and as such, needs the proper thought. We have not taken the time to do this and we should.

The city has shown that it will talk about issues from time to time. We saw that with the debate on dog breeds in recent weeks. Not everyone might have liked the conclusion that came from that debate but it was a topic well worth re-visiting.

Bring on the talk on parking in Winnipeg.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Sports and Entertainment District

There has been good coverage of CentreVenture's continued push on the sports and entertainment district surrounding the MTS Centre in the newspapers and blogs.

Too few projects in the downtown are devoid of any public financial help. This, of course, is the bane of not just Winnipeg but a lot of cities. A larger debate about how to get the private sector to be the the driving force and take complete financial responsibility would be a worthwhile one. However, it would appear to be that after years of neglect of our downtown and private sector alike, a public agency has to pick its targets and draw increased private investment.

The idea of a sports and entertainment district is a sound one. It is easy to see that CentreVenture has eyed what has happened in Toronto and other cities carefully. Around the Air Canada Centre, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment built Maple Leaf Square. Ultimately, it was a huge project that cost upwards of $500 million and had everything from hotels, to condos, a sports bar and daycare.

The Real Sports bar as in short order since it opened last year and ESPN has named it best sports bar in North America. Best place for women to pick up men in Toronto and wear heels and not step on peanut shells. In short, sporty but classy.

The MTS Centre has already attracted a big sports bar in 4Play Sports. At 19,000 square feet, it is not exactly small. By comparison, the Toronto sports bar is 27,000 square feet. The big question that has to be asked is whether the True North people, owners of the MTS Centre and the Manitoba Moose, want to own and operate their own sports bar. On the face of it, it could be a winning idea. It is possible for a city to have more than on sports bar. In addition to the Real Sports bar in Toronto, there is Wayne Gretky's and Wendall Clark's sports bars.

So back to the public plaza idea. Aside from the Maple Leaf Square mentioned above, there is the L.A. Live in Los Angeles and the Victory Park plaza in Dallas as examples. Both projects cost a few billion dollars.

CentreVenture figures the cost of their project will be around $40 million and mentions a boutique hotel, offices and plaza as part of the mix. What is missing is housing. This was a major component of Maple Leaf Square and it should be part of what happens in the immediate area around the MTS Centre. If between $40 and $50 million in condos and apartments go up with the project, the total would be about $100 million in investment for the area, mostly private. That is about 1/5 of the total of Toronto's square which makes sense given the population of Winnipeg.

What the city doesn't need is windswept plaza with few people using it. A population that lives nearby will be more likely to find a use for the space especially if it is safe and has things that make it vital and useful. Note to CentreVenture: Maple Leaf Square has a daycare. Want to build a community, gathering space and general fun place to be? Make sure people live nearby, make it safe, make it useful, make it exciting.

This isn't brain surgery. Winnipeg does get things right a number of times. The Forks has been mostly done right. It is a gathering spot, it is safe, it is useful and it is exciting. Instinctively though, Winnipeggers know that people should not live there lest it make the area less inclusive of all residents. This is not the case for the area around the MTS Centre. People living there would be most welcome. In fact, it will be necessary for the area to survive and support a host of businesses that don't hang up the "closed" sign art 5 pm.

The Avenue residential units down Portage Avenue shows with effort and some public seed money that housing can be built where it has historically not existed. However, we need a condo alley such as Toronto's to give the district greater vitality. Rental apartments are needed as well but actual home ownership along Portage Avenue could and should help transform the street from simply being a commercial and office strip.

Winnipeg needs businesses who build downtown to think in terms of a residential component to any project. Imagine if Manitoba Hydro had done what Telus is doing for Vancouver this week. They are not only building their 22 story office building. They are building 44 story condo as part of a $750 million investment in Vancouver.

There are a number of prepared pads awaiting office towers that have never come. Perhaps developers needs to create Winnipeg's own condo alley such as we have seen in Toronto. It certainly might help create the downtown population base that could make use of variety of public spaces already available in the area. By the way, those pads that could use a condo are both ends of Portage Place and the Trizec building atop Winnipeg Square.

In the end, let's keep the ideas coming but remember it would help to have a population living in one of these developments.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Hotels On West Portage Avenue

In the last year, as noted in these pages, there has been a flurry of private businesses upgrading or building hotels from the ground up. West Portage Avenue is the latest to see some big changes.

Unlike the U.S, where national hotel brand names proliferate in select areas, Winnipeg has been known for regional city hotels. While these hotels might be affiliated with major reservations systems, they have retained their unique name and design status. The examples in Winnipeg abound: Norwood Hotel, Assiniboine Gordon Hotel and the Viscount Gort.

The Downs Motor Inn was one such regional hotel. In the last years, it has taken on the name-brand of Howard Johnson Express hotel. The 43 room hotel now has some new owners who seek to expand the hotel and take advantage of the attractions in the west of the city.

For years the main attraction was Assiniboia Downs Racetrack and the John Blumberg Golf Course. Hence, the old name Downs Motor Inn. The list of attractions has increased quite a bit. The Red River Ex, Adrenaline Adventures and the new MTS Iceplex are all drawing increasing numbers of people.

The sense that the area is a destination point has been recognized by others. Two other hotel projects are presently underway. A 70 room Motel 6 is nearing completion in Headingley close to the very busy Flying J gas station. The Motel 6 looks a little lonely where it presently sits but the whole stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway is being transformed by a divided road that will help commercial development. Also, being built is a 110 room Best Western hotel in that section of road.

Alongside the Howard Johnson Express inside the Perimeter Highway is a Canada 1 Hotel. If the name seems confusing, it is because it was a Super 8 Hotel until recently. I can't even find a listing of the hotel online but there it is: rebranded.

Just off the top of my head, I'd say the greatest influence on hotels in the area has to be the MTS Iceplex. It will be hosting large tournaments for years to come and teams will need places to stay. I expect we may not have seen the last of hotels being built in the area.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

More Local Content on 1290 Sports Radio

I complained about how little local content there was when the station started and it has slowly started to carve out a niche in that area in the last months. 1290 Sports Radio first picked up the Illegal Curve radio program from Kick FM for a weekend show. Next, they brought In Leah Hextall for a program called Amateur Hour featuring the unsung heroes in sport.

However, the best was yet to come: Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist Gary Lawless and co-host Andrew (Hustler) Paterson jumped from their evening timeslot on CJOB to the same timeframe on 1290 Sports Radio.

CJOB has moved quickly to fill the spot with Bob Irving, one of the most respected people in Winnipeg sports.

It is going to be interesting comparing the two sports shows over the next months.

It is a lot of content for one man to fill on CJOB given the rest of the responsibilities on his shoulders. Bob Irving is quite good but it one heck of a lot work that he will be doing. Of course, the same can be said for Gary Lawless who in addition to the Free Press puts in huge hours on radio.

Is this a battle of stamina now?

At the very least CJOB should seek a co-host for the Irving show.

Sports radio has gotten very hot all the sudden.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Charlie Sheen's Manitoba Website

"I'm an exciting client."

A Winnipeg website is getting big attention because it uses Charlie Sheen quotes as a source of amusement.

You too can Live The Sheen Dream.

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