Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Opening of IKEA

Winnipeg's IKEA snuck open Saturday for special guests. The restaurant continues to serve staff and construction people as they ready themselves for the big launch.

At night, the sign and the parking lot are lit up and people are at work even till late to meet the deadline.

As the big day nears, a lot of analysis of the development, the company and what it will mean or not mean for Winnipeg is being discussed by CBC and the Free Press. We are hearing a lot of new information attesting to the fact that the province and the city were trying to seal the deal long before the store announced they were coming.

The commentary is fair but the undertones of "Yes but..." abound both in professional coverage as well as reader comments. That's okay. Critical analysis should be afforded any public policy decision where sums of money are being spent and where people's lives are being affected.

Even with this analysis some commentary is running along the lines of this: "Sam Katz gets things done! Who cares how?" Or..."the NDP once again shows its superior management of the economy."

I expect we will lots of cheerleadingnaysaying and the like. We will also have people taking credit and those blaming.

In truth, they will all be correct.

There are a lot of things about what this deal is and what it isn't.

Here is what it is:

* A major private investment in retailing in Winnipeg totalling $400 million.
* A quick turnaround on reclaiming of rail yards abandoned by CN after 2002.
* A major traffic headache despite the $26.5 million investment in roads and intersections at Sterling Lyon and Kenaston.
* A feather in the cap for the city for getting IKEA and the crowds it can draw from far away.

Here is what it isn't:

* A civic or provincial economic strategy.

Despite how both the city and the province took credit for the Jets and how it may or may not have helped each win the elections, it didn't represent a strategy for the governments to ensure success for the future. Getting IKEA is important but not as good as having a plan to make the region economically successful all round.

* A transportation strategy for Kenaston traffic in Winnipeg.

The St. James Bridge, Kenaston between Ness and Taylor along with Kapyong Barracks and Kenaston south of Whyte Ridge to the Perimeter Highway are all in need of city, provincial and federal planning, financing and construction. If nothing is done soon, the traffic nightmares along this stretch of road will be become legendary and all those in political office will be blameworthy.

So...all in all, a few really good things and a enough bad things to make for headaches down road.

Consumer spending is the backbone to the economy right now and Manitoba has weathered better than some with people buying houses, renovations and items for their homes and family.

The arguments for and against IKEA are academic now. It is here and it is pretty undeniable that it is the cause of excitement. Nothing is likely to convince those who were opposed to the store in the beginning to like it now but you never know. I can still remember the resistance to Sunday shopping in the 1980s and how some of those who said they would never shop on that day now shop.

Things change. Notwithstanding IKEA's corporate record and haphazard city planning, it is very likely that the taxes paid by construction workers and for the supplies used in the store and roadwork has paid a significant chunk of the costs of the $26.5 million in road improvements. And if not this year then in the years ahead with having 300 employees at one store and the hundreds more who will be employed in construction, restaurants and stores in phase 2 and phase 3.

As far as IKEA's record goes, don't shop there. Or put pressure on them to do better. Some things are unforgivable for some people. My grandfather never drank Coke to the day he died because it was reserved for U.S. soldiers when he was in England as an officer during World War II. This was his choice and I understood it. I have heard similar stories of people not buying Japanese or German products due to the war.

At some point though, things change or ought to if we are to move on.

So, welcome IKEA.

We can all use some excitement and this will be an event but we can't rest on our laurels now.

That might be plainly demonstrated when we have city cops trying desperately to manage traffic the first few days.

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