Friday, March 2, 2012

Government Building Downtown

The provincial government has stepped up moving and consolidating offices in the downtown area. Some people have said this is not true development as it is government, others are against it for the simple reason that it is government pure and simple.

I'll set aside the libertarian view we should not have government or extremely little of it. Suffice to say, Winnipeg has had a high level of all three governments making a base of the city for delivery of their services. I don't have to go back far in our history to see what unbridled private delivery of business services meant. In some cases it meant a shoot out if we go back to the Hudson's Bay and Northwest Company rivalries.

However, as I said, I won't go into an anti-government or anti-business screed. I believe we try to limit the overreach of government but I happen to believe that there needs to be balance. To that end, I think all three levels of government need a strategy in the province of Manitoba to promote density, sustainability and best land use through re-development. And wherever possible use this strategy to leverage private investment.

If you look all up and down Portage Avenue, for example, many of the office buildings there have had some form of government office in them. I am not exaggerating in the least. While some of the buildings had a geographic reason to be in the area (such as the former post office building...later CJOB building), many of the other offices were leased just because space was needed.

In short, government offices have helped fuel suburban office development for years.

The provincial government as well as the federal government have always had offices downtown but not so much a plan. The province has placed lots of offices on Broadway over the years and it has helped give that street vitality. It has made sense given the fact that the legislature was right there on the same street. Only problem is that the province's strategy meant sitting on surface lots behind Broadway for decades contributing to a lack of density around the Convention Centre.

The province has been hit and miss in recent months about leasing or helping fuel a building cycle downtown lately. It is leasing space in an old Air Canada building at 352 Donald Street and a space at 287 Broadway and then again at 777 Portage Avenue. Those are the hits. The misses are calls for companies to make offers of property and then not following through.

Even a small amount of leased space can trigger millions of restoration. And so it is the case with 111 Lombard Avenue where Brick's Fine Furniture used to be located. It is an attractive building with a parkade across the street and surface parking lot beside. Despite the fact the building reno will include an expansion into vacant space, it seems the province probably can't help think it is attractive with the parking.

The proper investment by government in offices that they need can be the beacon for further development. Some interesting things are happening in terms of this investment now. It could and should be even better.

A plan should be in place to slowly move things to more central locations in a community here and elsewhere in Manitoba. Placing a very large building with tax people near the fringes of the city should be something thought of as unusual in the future.

There are good places downtown. However, they need people. Those people primarily come from those who live in the area. However, central location for sport, entertainment and office workers helps elevate a downtown to one that is busy with activity all day and all night.

More people equals more safety in that it generally translates into an abundance of eyes and ears to report break ins, aggressive behaviour and the like. Think of how most people feel when they are in The Forks: generally secure and happy to be there.

In 2013, it might be a surprise some of the things that are happening downtown. I can't think of anything so strong since the 1980s and the Core Area Initiative and its beginnings. Sadly, what eventually happened as that the focus became just on Portage Place and The Forks and too much in between fell by the wayside.


One Man Committee said...

I'm not critical of the government presence in downtown Winnipeg. It has to go somewhere and I would argue that things would be much more dire downtown had the three levels of government simply located their operations in cheap new suburban office parks - there would be a lot more boarded up or demolished heritage buildings if that were the case.

The more appropriate criticism of government in this case is their failure to stimulate more activity by the private sector. Government activity should be a side dish, not the main course. Unfortunately in Winnipeg there appears to be a lot more of the former than the latter - that needs to change because public spending can only take things so far.

Anonymous said...

The private sector moved to Alberta years ago. All we have left is government, small business and vacant buildings.