Monday, July 30, 2012

Osborne Village Condos

 
 548 Stradbrook, home of the old Phi Delta Theta Rat House


It would appear that the strategy for Osborne Village is that condo homes should be on average 1,200 square feet. Yes, you heard that right. That is bigger than many Winnipeg homes! Don't want the density to get too high or for people to have affordable alternatives to these bigger condos. No, that would be awful.

The design from 5468796 Architecture is nothing to write home about in early drawings. It is a four story building set to replace the 12 unit three story house that was home to Phi Delta Theta.

During the big comeback of the fraternities in the 1980s, there were four houses of fraternities all within walking distance of one another. Delta Kappa Epsilon (Dekes) was on Roslyn Road across Osborne Street. On Wilmot Place were two frats, Delta Upsilon (DUs) and Zeta Psi (Zetes). Stradbrook Avenue was home to Phi Delta Theta (Rats).

Each one of these homes housed University of Winnipeg and Manitoba students. They were also host to social events every weekend. The famous four houses were often assisted in these parties by the four sororities: Alpha Delta Pi (ADpie), Alpha Gamma Delta (Gams), Zeta Tau Alpha (Zetas) and Alpha Phi.

Every fall, residents would see toga parties. It was not unusual for all fours houses to have something on the same weekend and thousands of students would migrate from house to house. The Zeta Psi house on Wilmot Place had uncanny similarity to the exterior look of Animal House. It also had three bars on three floors and a vending machine that distributed beer cans courtesy of Molson.

It is obvious that gentrification pushed the frats out. The Zetes and Dekes found places elsewhere but the trend against frats and the costs of running the houses eventually meant they were all sold. The frats continue to exist but nothing since their heyday when there was truly a fraternity row of sorts in Osborne.

The design requirements for condos conversions for houses truly is for the very rich. Even at an average of 923 square feet, the condos proposed for Stradbook are large compared to many units. The city planners want only 6 units rather than 8 and an average of 1,200 square feet.

The accusation is that there will be too much traffic. The city means specifically the back lane will be affected and that 350 cars will be added with just under 4 trips per day average.

I think this ignores all the evidence that people choose to live in the area because of the density and often walk, bike or use transit for their needs. The traffic problems of Osborne Village are that of commuters traversing the area going to and from somewhere else.

City Planners are worried that this will be the start of many more smaller condo units in the village. We should be so lucky. This has somehow evolved into fears about everyone having cars and using them as frequently as people do in the suburbs.

I don't discount the traffic in the area but a 1,200 square foot policy is for rich people. And many people who buy condos in Osborne Village will have good access to grocery stores and the like. Heck, the walk from Stradbrook to Safeway is on par with the distance it takes to walk from the back of a suburban shopping lot to the mall.

Let this project go through. I can't see the problems being anywhere close to making Osborne a bad place to live.

Or perhaps they would like 12 frat boys back in the house and toga parties on Friday?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Brian Pallister - Leader of Progressive Conservatives


Brian Pallister - Leader of Manitoba Progressive Conservatives


No one else wanted it. After years of sniping from the sidelines by various PC members through two leaders, no one else came forward to take on the mantle of leadership. Brian Pallister was the only one to declare. The demoralized and scared Progressive Conservative MLAs all scrambled to announce they wouldn't be running.

Talk about depressing.

I am not a Progressive Conservative but the slogan of Aim Higher ought to include a vital race for leadership.

At the moment, we face the prospect of a permanent governing party in the NDP. You can see a certain smugness in NDP circles that will be unchallenged for years to come. You can see this in the contribution to the Free Press from Sel Burrows, an NDP activist. He believes the NDP has a solid lock on center right and cannot be attacked by the Progressive Conservatives from the left or improve the NDP's position on other issues like crime and education.

Sel Burrows has been a tad restless on social policy from the NDP and he has sniped from the side. However, he remains an NDP loyalist and party brass know this and let him criticize because he will continue to deliver inner city ridings in elections despite any misgivings he has. Why Burrows continues to do the party bidding and be taken for granted is anyone's guess. However, if he has a fatalist view of things about others doing worse, maybe that guides his hand.

This isn't a critical piece on Sel Burrows. He is an activist and a loyalist despite his critical views of the government and has tried to help his community. However, one thing is certain: he is wrong that the NDP cannot be challenged on issues right or left and gain no success for the party that does so.

Sel Burrows says the PCs can't win on inner city issues. Well, since the ridings that befuddle the Tories on winning office are in the suburbs, it is there that they should concentrate their efforts.

In the past Hugh McFadyen and Stuart Murray have tried to campaign on tax deductions, law and order and healthcare. Much of the sound and fury focussed on crime and tax. Good issues, yes, but ones we saw time and time again not appeal to women voters.

Women voters have and will be the key to Progressive Conservatives winning office. It is likely that many women voters were looking for ideas on issues that mattered to them. They didn't find satisfaction with opposition on what they offered. And in the 2011 election, Hugh McFadyen couldn't turn the focus off of Manitoba Hydro and its possible sale. Moreover, he confused his own supporters with a less fiscally responsible policy on deficit and debt than the NDP proposed.

In polls leading to the election, the PCs seemed well positioned to turn the tide. It is shocking to see just how bad the policy platform was and how they couldn't respond to attack ads.

Anyways, I believe the NDP are vulnerable on issue of social and economic policy that the Progressive Conservatives can offer a different platform on. Many of these issues are important in particular to women, especially suburban women.

So, here is the winning formula for PCs to win:

Daycare


This is an out and out disaster. The registry doesn't work, is poorly managed, there are too few spaces, not enough being built and affordability is an issue. While some make Tories might ask: why are we paying for choices made by people to place their children in care, they should be saying: We are helping families save costs, helping employers by ensuring their workers have services to increase productivity, getting skilled men and woman back in the market, providing safe and enriching care for children.

But how to get there? How does one increase daycare spaces in a timely fashion. That comes with the next policy.

Full Time Kindergarten


We will be the last province to get it at this pace. If the PCs announce in an election they are committed to full time Kindergarten, it will change the debate. You can bet women are going to turn off any talk about selling Hydro or not selling Hydro when they hear this policy.

We need it. We should have it. It will win an election.

And moreover, full time Kindergarten opens up lots of space in daycares as children migrate from half days spent in daycare to move into the classroom.

Want to make the Manitoba Teacher's Society, the school trustees and parents happy? Tell them that Kindergarten will be full time within two years of taking office.

Full Time Homecare

Parents who have kids are sometimes being sandwiched between their own parents who increasingly need help because of their own health issues. Some families are being run ragged between kids and parents in need.

Full time homecare will help families.

It is a winning policy.

Housing

I don't know how anyone can say the NDP have succeeded on this one. The worst landlord in the province is the province. The solution for the NDP is to build more Manitoba Housing. Ick.

Rent control should end and renters who need assistance should be supported. Manitoba Housing should be sold and those who are on social assistance should be able to rent anywhere. To do this, the policy should be to provide some tax assistance to developers to provide various units in blocks for those on assistance.

The outcome of this will be: More rental units in more locations around the city, less bunching up of problems in provincially run Manitoba Housing.

Provincially owned landed that the province has been sitting on as parking lots should be offered up to developers for proposals that include lots of housing. The NDP have sat on these lots for more than a decade and continue to move slow on this issue.

***

Those are but a few areas that the PCs could and should propose a change in social policy that will win them female and suburban votes.

There are other areas they can use to hurt the NDP where they need to be hurt: Infrastructure. It is safe to say the NDP know they are vulnerable on this and yet they contribute huge amounts to urban sprawl with their own development of Waverley West all the while not helping to fix the high traffic they create with it.

They should be hammered on this issue.

What we have seen so far from the PCs is a wasted opportunity. A non-vital leadership race ends in a whimper. Zero profile gained for the new leader. No policy or organizational discussion. Awful.

This doesn't need to be the end of the story. However, unless we wish to get what Sel Burrow's and other NDPers are thinking: a permanent NDP majority; the Tories have to think and act differently.

The beauty of this is that much of it can still remain with stated PC principles.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Winnipeg Makes U.S. National News - Cross Border Shopping

A weekend Grand Fork Herald story went national in USA Today about cross border shipments from stores such as Lowe's Home Improvement and Menard's. It was reported here on my blog quite some time ago abour how Menard's advertises in Winnipeg and ships so regularly that trucks leave at least twice daily bringing goods to Manitoba. Lowe's Home Improvement is now doing the same. And product shipped from Grand Forks in spreading out across Canada via Winnipeg.

From the Herald:
Shoppers from Manitoba have a tendency to travel far from home for a good deal, but their bargain-seeking is particularly evident when it comes buying things for their homes.
“At least once a day, maybe twice,” is how often Chris Nero, store manager at the Grand Forks Menards, said he has a truck delivering purchases north of the border. “We keep getting busier with Canadians every day.”
While many big retailers in the Grand Forks area draw crowds of Canadian shoppers, home improvement and building supply stores such as Menards and Lowe’s have been especially popular with travelers prepared to spend large sums for big projects and willing to go a long way for the savings available here.
“You see a lot of trailers in parking lots,” said Sandy Dobmeier, visitor services manager for the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau. She has heard of cases in which shoppers could get a savings of $5,000 by shopping in the United States.
In an otherwise downbeat budget, the federal government under Stephen Harper allowed for ever greater amounts to be able to brought in duty-free from visits to the U.S. Many Winnipeggers are taking advantage of this and buying right up to $800 under the new rules.

And deliveries from the U.S. increase all the time.

From the Herald:
Menards has offered delivery service to Canada since 2007. Lowe’s began offering it in 2011 and makes two or three deliveries a month.
Even with the added cost of delivery, which the stores declined to provide, the savings are still an incentive for people to spend their money in the United States and ship their purchases home.
“They’re telling us the products they’re purchasing in Winnipeg is sometimes twice and even three times what they’re paying here,” said Melissa Bartak, assistant store manager for Lowe’s in Grand Forks.
A banner hangs near the entrance of the store informing Canadian shoppers of the delivery service. Lowe’s also places fliers advertising delivery at some area hotels.
The Grand Forks Lowe’s is the chain’s first store to offer delivery to Canada, and it trucks goods beyond Manitoba. The chain could eventually expand deliveries to other stores near the border, according to Bartak.
“We’ve gone as far west as Alberta and as far east as Nova Scotia,” she said. “It’s been a really good start to the program.”

However, even without the staying a few days, Winnipeggers are taking advantage of U.S. prices, selection and service. For example, free shipping from many companies within the U.S. has created a huge border warehousing program. In many towns just over the border, Canadians use a post box to receive goods. It has become such a huge industry in the U.S. that the Canadian government really needs to look at what they can do to make things better in Canada. Likewise, Canadian businesses sometimes find it useful to drive down to the States to use cheaper postal delivery service there.

Even the steady economy in Manitoba and more home starts has done nothing to mitigate people's desire to buy in the States for a variety of items.

From the Herald:
The Grand Forks Menards is not the only Menards to make cross-border deliveries, but the service has helped make it one of the top stores in the nation, Nero said.
“We’ve been up as far as Thompson and The Pas,” he said.
Both towns are in the middle of Manitoba’s northern region.
Like other cross-border retail in Grand Forks, the demand for home improvement goods is based in part on prices, usually lower in the United States because of Canada’s higher tax rates. But it is also based on the selection of retailers and a building boom in Manitoba.
“We are in a very aggressive new housing market now,” said Mike Moore, president of the Manitoba Home Builders’ Association.
Housing starts in Winnipeg were the highest in 25 years in 2011, he said, and are poised to set another record this year.
While the Home Depot has stores in Manitoba, including four in Winnipeg, Lowe’s and Menards have not followed.
“There’s always been a history of do-it-yourselfers always going down to Lowe’s or Menards,” Moore said. “It’s a store you don’t have so you want to go there.”
Moore also acknowledged that price differences could be large between the two countries, and that reports of prices in the United States being 50 percent lower than in Canada were believable.
“There’s no doubt our taxes are higher,” he said.

If this has the Harper government worried, they haven't shown any sign of it. The higher Canadian dollar hasn't seemed to have the effect of lowering prices on as many goods as Canadians would like. And they are showing their disgust by shopping down in the States. Some people have mentioned that it is the taxes that make the difference. That is a bit of a cop out. We pay higher prices even in Alberta which has no provincial sales tax. The 50 percent margin mentioned in the article is simply not just taxes but the fact that companies in Canada have higher margins.

From the Herald:
Nero and Bartak said their Canadian customers buy everything from kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, windows, doors, flooring and lumber. For projects that add up to four and five digits, 50 percent off is enough of an incentive to travel to North Dakota, even with the added cost of shipping.
“It’s still worth it,” Nero said. “And I think they like to come down and get a motel and go out to eat.”
The Grand Forks Herald article got noticed nationally. The fact that Grand Forks Menards is the busiest in the U.S. because of Canada is a wake up call.

Our provincial and federal governments have hung the "Gone Fishin'" sign up and won't rouse themselves till Fall. Meanwhile business is drifting south fast.


Friday, July 20, 2012

CFL on NBC Sports Network


It was announced today that the CFL has found a home on U.S. for some regular season games as well as all the play-offs including the Grey Cup.

Obviously, it is hard to get excited here in Winnipeg when the Blue Bombers are off to a poor start. However, it is good to have additional media coverage of our game in the U.S. market. Why? Well, we forget that we do have an audience down there of fans following the game for a variety of reasons. Plenty of Canadians are down in the U.S. for business and short and long term holidays. Now many will be able to enjoy the game.

The contract for 9 regular season games, East and West finals and the Grey Cup go to the newly dubbed NBC Sports Channel...formerly known as Versus...formerly known as Outdoor Life Network.

Comcast used to be the owner of OLN and it was a broadcaster of hunting and fishing shows. Later, the Tour de France gave the network huge appeal with massive coverage and a star...Lance Armstrong. For a time, the network was jokingly called the "Only Lance Network."

It proved to not be a joke when Armstrong was not racing. Ratings went down. OLN was presented with a unique opportunity to move away from cycling when the contract for NHL games came up. Comcast already owned the Philadelphia Flyers. It seemed a good way to build something beyond the sports that they already covered.

OLN became Versus the second year of the NHL contract in 2006. Due the poorer coverage of Versus over ESPN, ratings dropped. However, more money was offered as was the chance to build an audience.

Versus cast about for other sports that it could build an audience around like ultimate fighting, lacrosse and auto racing. College football was there as well. They teamed up with NBC Sports to do Olympic coverage and world events. Even Grey Cup games were broadcast on the network.

Everything changed in 2011 when Comcast bought a majority stake in NBC Universal. It was then that all disparate sports units of Comcast and NBC Sports were brought together. Hockey has played a big part and the cable network and the main network have shown hockey and watched the ratings climb. The Olympics will be a major boost too.

But the Olympics only last so long and the hockey loving owner of NBC now has to think about what to show in the late summer after Olympics and before hockey and college football. The answer is Canadian Football.

Now, this doesn't foreshadow the CFL's return to the U.S. with teams down there. But it could be another revenue stream for the league. We need to get a team back in Ottawa and possibly in Quebec City and Halifax and the way to do is a healthy bottom line and good audiences.

Toronto is still convinced that the less love it shows the CFL, the better chance they have in getting an NFL team. They are wrong.

If the NFL can say no to Los Angeles for an insufficient stadium, lack of a committed ownership group and undetermined fan base, you can can be sure they are looking at Canada'a largest city and wondering what compelling reason they would go there.

The CFL, not withstanding the Bombers icky play, has been on a bit of an upswing in ratings, with exciting games, new facilities and the like. It is a good thing to get more TV coverage.

Welcome to our U.S. audience.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Famous Dave's Opens at Reenders Square


Reenders Square circa 2009, now home to Famous Dave's


Winnipeggers have waited a long time but Famous Dave's opened this week at Reenders Square in the east part of the city. The rib joint is 6,300 square feet, just a shade under Fargo, North Dakota's location but larger than some of their more recent opening.

The closing of Blockbusters locations saw several business enterprises jump at the chance to grab the open spaces.

The partnership between the Winnipeg's Tribal Councils Investment Group (TCIG) and Famous Dave's is likely to see further locations in Winnipeg. Each restaurant costs about $3 million to build and have just over 100 employees. Famous Dave's has indicated they want 400-500 locations in Canada. That would be quite a feat since they are just under 200 restaurants so far in the U.S. in 35 states.

The hours of the location run 11 am to 12 am week nights and move to 1 am on weekends.

Expect to hear a swirl of additional announcements of restaurant openings in the city in the months to come.

On many people's list is Outback Steakhouse, Hard Rock Cafe and a TGI Fridays outside of the airport location.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sherbrook Street - Element Condo





The Element Condo - Sherbrook Street (above is what it will look like, below is what it was)

There was a little grocery store with a house behind it at Sherbrook and Sara. As befitting of what had been happening to the neighbourhood as recently as just a few years ago, it had roll down barriers for the windows. There were a number of rental houses as well heading towards the bridge. Rooming house territory. Absentee landlords. Properties that were slowly running down.

Sherbrook Street has always been a mix of residential, retail and business services. It is not a bad mix. In fact, it is the best kind you can have. The problem is that the residential component was literally falling apart. In the 1990s, prices of homes in the area were stagnant or declined. Actual deflation was taking place. 

The streets just east to Sherbrook were battling murder, arson, break and enters and vandalism. It wasn't unusual to walk down Young, Langside or Furby to find boarded up housing and police tape. 

Even Sherbrook was marked by massage parlours and pawn shops and it was only a few years back that a business owner of one of the shops was beaten badly.

And still through it all, a few shops and restaurants and businesses held on. It helped that Wolseley tenaciously resisted slipping down the road of no return. People there stubbornly held onto home ownership and lovingly kept their places up. These same people also liked to patronize local restaurants and businesses.

Still, this was not enough during the dismal times and restaurants like Acropolis closed and now are occupied by a social agency.

The building of the a four story Element condo where the old store and houses stood off of Sara and Sherbrook suddenly acts as a game changer. While house prices have upgraded all over the neighbourhood and local home ownership has strengthened, there are still large tracts of property both residential and commercial that require major upgrades or in worst case scenarios, demolition to begin again.

The Sandu Properties development increases the density of the area, raises the tax base as well as the property values of both homes and businesses in the area. There are a few businesses across the street, a few low profile, that will become extremely lucrative now. A neighbourhood garden in an empty lots might be too tempting for further developers, nothwithstanding neighbourhood protests. 

However, I have to ask, would a garden plot make sense in the building destroyed by fire a years back in Osborne Village? The answer is no. Sadly, the city did not hold out for a better development for the fire in that end of town and only a one story retail strip was built.

Sherbrook and Maryland are long streets compared to Osborne. Multi-story buildings of residential, office and retail should be encouraged. The Element is the right size for the neighbourhood and despite the fears that had someone spray paint "Grentification" (sic) on the sign out front, I would put it out there that it was far worse to let the houses that stood on the site slip into further decay.

It is important to have a good strategy for affordable housing for Manitoba. To that end, the worst landlord in the city is the Manitoba government. That can be argued for another time. However, at present, there are plenty of lower income option for the area, not a lot of higher income ones.

To be certain there are a lot of things happening on Sherbrook, a little less on Maryland but that is bound to change.

I don't immediately foresee some of the problems that we have seen happen on Corydon. Much of that has resulted from a preponderance of restaurants, patios and licenced establishments. However, the prospect of parking and the like could come up in the not too distant future.

This is a good news story so far and we could stand to see some more.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Canadian Mennonite University Expansion

The Overpass to the New Library of CMU, North Side of Grant

Another View of Library and Learning Commons

Top Picture Looking to North Campus, Field Where Library Will be Built
Bottom Picture Looking to South Campus Where Residences and Bookstore Are Located

It was just in 2009 that Canadian Mennonite University completed its last major construction project. At that time, the built a new science laboratory on the southern campus. And only two years, a massive residence was built on that site as well to join the other dorms. That new residence called Concord Hall was a 30,000 square foot, 42 unit building for 101 students. 

CMU has always had a strong residential component since taking over the former location of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren College in 2000. The CNBC campus, established in 1956 on Shaftesbury Blvd at Grant Avenue and across from the School for the Deaf  had a number of dorms for students.

The School for the Deaf which now serves as Founders Hall for CMU has served a numbers of roles in its history. The striking building was erected in 1921 and served as the School for the Deaf till World War II (1939-1945) when it became a training center for wireless operators. In 1947, the building was taken over and became the Manitoba Normal School and trained teachers until 1965. It was that year that the School for the Deaf returned and from 1996 remained there.

The building served as the administrative center for the Pan Am Games until 1999 when it was taken over by the three parters who would form the Canadian Mennonite University. A cairn was placed by the campus to commemorate the games and evergreen trees were planted to represent all the countries that participated: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, United States, and Venezuela.

In late 1999, the Pam Am offices wound down and the three parters for CMU took over. Those partners were the aforementioned Canadian Mennonite Brethren College, Mennonite Brethren Bible College/Concord College (1944) and Menno Simons College (1989). The Tuxedo campus was large and I am sure it was a built overwhelming for 1800 students and faculty. The northern and southern campus aspect meant that ill dressed students tramped down a gravel road from Founders Hall in the north to residences and classes in the south and vice versa. During a cold January waiting for a break in traffic without a coat must have seemed like an eternity. 

I am sure top officials as well as student dreamed alike of one day linking the two campuses. 

Well, now that day seems to have arrived. It will take $11 million but the first overpass over Grant Avenue is in the planning stages to link CMU as one. The library being center to it all. It is bold and it is good for the campus, the community and makes sense for traffic and logistics in every sense of the word. 

I know that the premier Greg Selinger is trying to find a reason to fund part of the campus expansion as it is not normal procedure to fund a private college. I have a suggestion if someone in the NDP government is listening. Make the overpass public.

Yes, that's right. Make access to the overpass public with entrances on south and north Grant Avenue and to ensure campus security, place pass card access for students and faculty to the building themselves. This gives students a secondary way down to the street level where many catch buses.

Anyway, just my two cents but for governments who need good reasons to chip in, this is one way to look at it.

I suppose I should mention that CMU is not limited to Tuxedo. In 2011, the college purchased 520 Portage Avenue across from the University of Winnipeg for Menno Simons College. This affirmed the strong and integrated relationship the college has had with the city university from the start.

I see a future for CMU that might be seen in what Concordia College is like in Fargo-Moorhead in Minnesota. While that college is much older, it has a similar religious and ethnic start. It is also strong in music and sport. At 2800 students, it is not much larger than CMU but punches way about its weight classification with a richness in programs and participation by students.

Might we see a CMU in the future with multiples buildings, many more students and faculty, top music, sport, business and education classes? I think the answer to that is yes. And if Tuxedo Golf course ever does go up for sale, it could do worse than have a university take it over.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Legacy of Bill Norrie


There is no doubt that Bill Norrie was well liked and generally regarded as a decent man. There is no doubt that he wanted to serve the people of his community.

As befitting of his service as second longest serving mayor for the city of Winnipeg from 1979 to 1992, there has been a rush of praise for the man. I have no problem with that. However, it is also the duty of the press to recall some of the darker moments of that tenure as well.

First elected to council in 1971 and endorsed by the Independent Citizens Election Committee, a right of center political party of Liberals and Conservatives founded in 1921, Norrie was present when the city amalgamated with the surrounding communities to form Unicity. The super council of 50 part time elected officials was carefully guided by the ICEC often in closed door meetings where policy was decided.

It was at this time that Norrie along with his like minded councillors began negotiating a deal for Trizec, a major property developer, to build a tower at Portage and Main. At the time, Norrie was elected councillor, he was present for expropriation of property at the southwest corner that climbed into the milliions by the time it was done.

The ICEC pushed through the Trizec development, the concourse and parkade in numerous closed door meetings and in 1979, shortly before Norrie became mayor, pedestrian traffic was banned from the street in a very long deal with the developers.

The Trizec Building stood thereafter as an example of how not to do things to this day. In the year that Norrie was sworn in, the development was largely unoccupied and had many darkened floors. It also had one of the sweetest city tax deals in the history of the city.

One year into mayor Bill Norrie's term, Winnipeg experienced the most crushing recession in its post war history. The Winnipeg Tribune, Swift's and Canada Packers all shuttered their doors in 1980. The citizens of Winnipeg watched cities like Calgary and Edmonton zip past us in population with Ottawa, Quebec City and Hamilton in quick succession after. Winnipeg experienced and exodus of population the likes of which we had never seen before.

In short, economic prospects were terrible, debt was increasing and borrowing was out of control. Suburban growth was funded with increases on property taxes based on a creaky assessment system. The city was sprawling like never before and the downtown was de-populating and was beginning to resemble a donut.

To top it off, the city was engaged in a language debate that started when a unilingual parking ticket of $5 was challenged by George Forest in 1975. Even a Supreme Court ruling in 1979 affirming language rights was not enough to spur the province and city to translate laws with any haste. For many years, some of the nastiest and vitriolic comments were at municipal and provincial levels and nothing was done. In 1980, another city traffic ticket was challenged and back to the Supreme Court it went.

While the French aspect of Winnipeg of the city was under great pressure from a hostile city response, the First Nations community was near ready to boil over. It is hard to fathom an examination of city politics and Bill Norrie without talking about the shooting of J.J. Harper in 1988.

The chief of police, Herb Stephen, cleared the officer almost immediately. This rather hasty move exposed the city to criticism of racism, police misconduct and cover-up. A raw wound of aboriginal relations was revealed for all to see.

Moreover, criminal police activity in 1981 with the arrests of officers Jerry Stolar and Barry Nielson for murder was still fresh in everyone's minds.

The lack of police reforms and how the chief was selected lay at the feet of Bill Norrie and the council.

The inquiry that followed revealed that the police association challenged the right of anyone to see police notebooks in regards to the shooting. The court disagreed and ordered verified copies be produced.

All through this sad state of affairs, true police reforms were sadly lacking and what should be remembered is that when Norrie left office in 1992, Winnipeg was without a full time police chief when Stephen stepped down in 1991. Outsider Dale Henry was named chief in 1992.

All in all...this period with Norrie as mayor was an extremely difficult time for the city.

There are plenty of kudos that should be listed along with Norrie's tenure as mayor. He did help bring the pandas to Winnipeg (all the while as the Winnipeg Zoo whithered from lack of other investment). He helped bring the Grey Cup game to the city.

And during his various terms, he was involved in tri-lateral work to restore downtown Winnipeg. The highs were The Forks, the lows Portage Place.


Bill Norrie was a genial and hard working councillor and mayor. When a person dies, there is generally a rush to focus on the positive things. However, when he left, the city was in debt, had declined in national standings in population, had no police chief and was in the middle of a biker war. The dissatisfaction with the ICEC and Liberal/Conservative coalition had bubbled over and Win into the 90s was well established and broke the back of one of the longest running civic parties in Canada. When Norrie stepped down in 1992, there was a movement afoot to challenge him at every turn.

It could very well be that if Norrie had wanted to, he could have been in office to his death. Few things can push a sitting mayor out of Winnipeg office. To that end, it is the province that is to blame for that. For some reason, the NDP government believes putting up an NDP affiliated mayor each election will change that.

It won't. What will break the logjam is to allow councillors to run for mayor without resigning their seat unless they win higher office. It is my opinion that if the law was challenged, it would not stand up to constitutional scrutiny.

There is little doubt that Bill Norrie wanted to serve his city and community. He certainly left some legacies to that end. For that, he should be thanked.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

British Tourists in Winnipeg


Manitoba Legislature

Where does a British tourist go when they visit Winnipeg? A while back, we had a travel reporter from Australia arrive and he was taken with the Osborne Village. He didn't want to see places such as a museum. Not everyone does.
Still, there is no denying that people love to go to a place that defines the people, tells a story or is just plain fun.
I think it is fair to say we don't have a killer category for destination travel. By that I mean Winnipeg does not have places like West Edmonton Mall, Las Vegas casinos, Wisconsin Dells or a NFL or Major League Baseball team Like Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins.
In truth, even if we wanted to make the Winnipeg Jets a major tourist attraction, it would be hobbled for large masses of travellers due to the fact that the team is sold out year after year.
Winnipeg's best tourist draw is usually families visiting family here, convention business and those travelling across Canada. That's okay. We are not building Disney here and a major attempt by government to try to replicate that would simply fail.
What the government can and should do is make sure that we satisfy the needs and wants of out our own people in the province and this in turn will likely be attractive to people visiting as well.
And so it goes with things like The Forks and the Manitoba Legislature. The attraction of both are obvious to us and it is something that draws tourists when they arrive. And now with the presence of tours of the Manitoba Legislature, we are appealing to those who love a little bit of mystery on their lives.
The Independent from Britain is a solid newspaper that is a serious newspaper with a flourish for good writing. They don;t do too many travel story from Canada but they did do this one on Winnipeg.
The writer finds the city to be filled with:
Winnipeg – is full of unusual temptations.
After taking in meal with a local flavour at Fude, the next place our intrepid travel writer from Britain went to was the Manitoba Museum.
To get a handle on this – and other complexities of Manitoba's history – the museum is definitely the place to start. And, with a diorama for every era, pride of place goes to a full-size replica of the Nonsuch, the impossibly tiny ketch that in 1668 made the first trading voyage into Hudson Bay. The 12 souls who braved this Arctic crossing were not after bison (or buffalo), however, but mink, muskrat, beaver and the other luxuriantly pelted creatures of the north whose fur fetched a pretty price back in Europe. It was on the fur trade that the Hudson Bay Company – and, ultimately, Canada itself – was founded.
 After learning more about the history, he heads to The Forks and St. Boniface.

Today, this spot is known as The Forks. "People have been meeting here for 6,000 years," says my guide Chris Thomas as, decked out in 19th-century settler threads and wicker shoulder basket, he leads me on Parks Canada's "6,000 years in 60 minutes" tour. Chris's colourful stories bring to life the ancient indigenous rituals and bloody settler skirmishes.
Today, however, the Forks is a more tranquil spot, all sunbathing picnickers and organic food stalls. A unique "Naked-Eye Observatory" celebrates indigenous cultures worldwide in towering wrought-iron sculptures around a huge sundial. Beyond, a busy construction site will become Canada's museum of human rights, due to open in 2013. A statue of Gandhi stands nearby, looking impatient.

A stroll across the Esplanade Riel bridge takes me into St Boniface. Louis Riel was the father of the Métis and founder of Manitoba. The battle for his people's rights eventually led to his execution in 1885 and makes him a folk hero. Today, St Boniface remains predominantly francophone and is home to most of the city's Métis community. Behind the monumental façade of the original basilica I find the modern cathedral, where stunning stained glass friezes depict biblical scenes in pop-art Modernism. Mary, I notice, is Métis.

And to cap it off, he visits the Manitoba Legislature.
I spend my final evening creeping through the corridors of the Manitoba Legislative Building. Built between 1913 and 1920 by British architect Frank Worthington Simon, this grand edifice is the ultimate monument to Winnipeg's good times. My guide is local author Frank Albo, whose bestselling Hermetic Code unlocks a world of occult mystery smuggled into the architecture. "Everything is hidden in plain view," he tells our wide-eyed tour group, as he reveals Masonic codes, hieroglyphic inscriptions and an intriguing hotchpotch of Christian and pagan symbolism.
All in all, a tourist hitting some of the most attractive things about the city. 
It is what I expect a lot of people from Winnipeg would think of when showing people around.
There are many times of tourists. There are those that come to the city for shopping, those for sports and those for culture. There are those here for conventions, others for family gatherings. 
What will be important in attracting people has to be attractive to us as well. The Forks is a case in point. It has evolved, grown, spread out and it is appealing to most people in the city. The place has become a destination.
It is hard to say if Winnipeg will ever have a destination that draws people globally. It is the strangest thing about how some areas grab attention. Prince Edward Island and the Anne of Green Gables story comes to mind as Japanese make the pilgrimage every year to see the home of Red Haired Anne.
It is best not to create something artificial. Always and forever, the litmus test for creating something ought to be: What will Winnipeggers want and what do they need?
To that end, let's have that discussion and see where it takes us.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

360 Main Street - Artis Building


Trizec - Commodity Exchange - Artis Tower

Many Winnipeggers still call 360 Main Street the Trizec Building. Named after a long defunct development company and having a rather checkered past in terms of its origins, the building has always been a unloved addition to Portage and Main.

The controversy over 360 Main Street is one that stands as example of what not to do for development. Built in 1979 and standing at 32 floors, the tower was completed just in time for some of the most brutal lay-offs in Winnipeg history and a humbling recession. For many years the tower was one where many floors stood unlit since they were unoccupied.

Over time, the building was filled with bank and lawyer offices and commodity brokers and exchange workers. Despite being officially named the Commodity Exchange Tower, people insisted on calling the place the Trizec Building. In all its years, there was no name atop the tower to signify a single entity that called the place home.

To add insult to injury, the Concourse which was part of the development to connect the four corners of Portage and Main, blocked people from walking across the most famous corner in the country. It was part of a plan to force pedestrians below ground to speed traffic through the corner but also to help monetize the mall at the back of the development.

The Winnipeg Square Mall has never had the size or draw to attract anything more than those who work nearby. Even to this day the mall specializes in services catering to those who work there every day.

The Winnipeg Square Parkade was city owned until recently. It was the carrot that helped attract Trizec at the beginning and became the jewel that the city tarnished by draining it of capital and selling at a fire sale price. Now, combined with 360 Main Street, it is a very likely super profitable component of the overall development.

Outwardly, the one change that people in the downtown may have noticed is that for the first time, 360 Main Street bares the name of Artis on it. This is a reflection of the ownership change that happened last year. Winnipeg-based Artis bought the building and more recently took ownership of the MTS Building across the street from an Israeli-based group. This is the first time the building has been locally owned since it was built.

Artis is the real estate investment trust that began publicly trading only seven years ago. It has become one of the largest companies in the city in short order. However, it would be wrong to think that the people there involved have not been in the business for decades. The Marwest Group has been active for years in construction and development in Canada and the U.S. and has amassed a billion dollar portfolio. Its CEO Armen Martens has become a big player in downtown development in recent years.

Even in the last days, Artis has been named as a developer along aside the Chipman family company Longboat for the MPIC lands near the MTS Centre. It is becoming a familiar partnership for the the two companies. They are already involved in Centrepoint, the development across from the MTS Centre on Portage Avenue.

The repatriation of much of Portage and Main in the last year could be a good thing in that, it could lead to a development of empty pads atop 360 Main Street. The dream of an office won't proceed without commitment for space prior to construction. However, a hotel and condos in that block remains a distinct possibility.

Artis has the knowledge of the Winnipeg market to make that possible. It could be very significant that that 360 Main Street has the the Artis logo on it.

How long before we might call it the Artis Tower?