Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sir John Franklin Bus Loop

Sir John Franklin Bus Loop
The Number 12 Fire Hall on Grosvenor Avenue is relocated but the land continues to cause controversy. The land for the fire hall and the bus loop that wraps around it was acquired in 1955 from Sir John Franklin Community Club for $1. The club has since merged with two other clubs to form the Central Corydon Community Club.

At the time of the fire hall Shindico fiasco a number of parties indicated they might be interested in the fire hall if they had known it was on the market. The club indicated they wanted to make the field regulation size for soccer which meant getting that property back.

By all accounts, Sir John Franklin should have the first crack at it but they should have a good plan in place if they want to acquire the land. After all, the city use for it has not yet ended. It is still the only place to turn around buses on Grosvenor Avenue.

Over the decades Sir John Frankin has had three locations. The first was at the old elementary school in 1922. By 1940, they had moved to Wellington Crescent and in 1955, they moved to their present location. At no time was the soccer field adjacent to the bus loop ever regulation size. It hardly seemed to matter since the pitch was used by children.

In any event, there were a few other fields used over the years. The soccer pitches at the Kapyong Barracks were regulation size, a soccer field was used through the 1970s in the green space at Park Boulevard till Tuxedo residents chased it away and Joe Malone Park was an old stand by although it is unclear if the community club ever was in possession of that land or whether the city just let the club book soccer and tennis there.

As mentioned, a spokesman for the club said Sir John Franklin would like to get the land back to fulfill a plan to make the soccer pitch regulation size. I have not seen that plan nor why the club feels it needs the land to go ahead with it.

On January 23, River Heights City Councillor John Orlikow presented the second plan for relocating the bus loop. The first plan for putting the loop in front of Westworth Church seems to have no gained any momentum.

This second plan involves extending the bus route down Grosvenor past Westworth Church and crossing the old rail line between the new condo development and making a right turn onto Lockwood Street and then a left turn onto Tuxedo Avenue and heading towards the Rady Jewish Centre and turning around at the loop at Edgeland Boulevard.

The extension is to take another six minutes passing through the bus only passage between the condos and past Carpathia School on Lockwood and dropping passengers off at a transfer point at Kenaston and then past the Rady Centre to the bus loop at Edgeland.

Grosvenor past Westworth Church

Squeeze past the condos to Lockwood

Six minutes sounds hard to believe knowing what I know about the route.

Travelling west down Tuxedo at Kenaston is a blink and you miss it traffic light. It already can get crowded there and cause you to wait for a few light cycles to get through. Only two cars usually get through and often it is so narrow that two cars barely squeeze beside one another.

Throw a bus into the works that picks up and drops passengers means the light will have to be longer. There is no way a bus can accelerate fast enough before the signal changes.

Heading past down Tuxedo east past Kenaston is busier and although the light is longer and cars and buses often take a few light cycles to get through.

Tuxedo and Kenaston
From Tuxedo and Kenaston, the proposed route is to the Edgeland Boulevard bus loop.

Edgeland Blvd Bus Loop
I'm not sure what the demand for this extension would be as it goes through a low density area of River Heights.

The much better solution might be to leave well enough alone, keep the old bus loop and sell the fire hall to someone who can use it in keeping with the neighbourhood.

However, IF Sir John Franklin requires the section, the bus route should go down an extension of the gravel road between the Burlington Northern tracks to Corydon, past commercial areas, past higher density housing and condos and through the much better intersection of Corydon and Kenaston, to Edgeland, past Manitoba Housing to Tuxedo, down Tuxedo to to Kenaston and back down Kenaston to Corydon.

 What road up to between Grosvenor and Corydon am I talking about?

This road:

Looking north from Corydon on road between tracks

Looking south from Grosvenor on road between tracks
These rail tracks are used infrequently. How infrequently? Well, there are no crossing barriers on most of the streets the rail passes by.

How difficult would be to run a bus down the center?

And if not here, why not an extension down Sir John Franklin Road?

Or here?

Green Space from Grosvenor to Corydon

Green space from Corydon to Grosenor
I think the point is that there might be some better high density pathways for the bus to extend across Kenaston.

Is anyone even considering these ideas?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Beau Hajavitch Webcam 3 - Bags From 1970s Downtown Winnipeg Record Stores

Quite a few record stores listed here.

Does anyone have the full list?

I used to work at A&A Records Madison Square  in the 1980s. It was one of the larger stores in town.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sears in Winnipeg to Close?

Sears Winnipeg in 2003 after $16 million Renovation
The rumours have been flying so much in the last weeks but there may be something to it. Sears many be looking to sell off the lease on their Polo Park location.

Sears department stores have been in free fall for a few years now. They had an absolutely terrible Christmas and Target is opening stores across Canada in only a couple of more months.

Manitoba doesn't figure too large in the grand scheme of things for Sears. There are only four department stores in the province all within Winnipeg. The company also runs Sears Home and Sears Hometown stores and have numerous catalogue pick up locations.

It is a pretty light covering of Manitoba compared to rivals such as Walmart and now Target.

By all accounts Sears Polo Park is a flagship store. It has done very well for Sears over the years. I have not see store breakdowns from this December but I suspect it has been a challenge this year compared to the glory years of past. However, this store was only just renovated in 2003 for $16 million. Can it still be successful in years to come?

Sears has already closed locations in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa to allow for the opening of Canada's first Nordstrom stores. These lease buy backs netted Sears $170 million.

The head office of Sears has indicated they are prepared to close even more stores, particularly under performing ones. But what about ones that perform well?

There have been whispers about Nordstrom's coming to Winnipeg. One store's downfall can be another's opportunity. Look at Woolco's sale to Walmart for that in 1994 and Zellers closing to make way for Target in 2012 and 2013. Could Sears be next?

To be frank, the only Sears location in a mall Nortstrom's might be interested in would be Polo Park. The store there is between 250,000 and 300,000 feet and anchors the largest and most profitable mall in Manitoba

Sears has already indicated they are struggling with apparel and home decor but do well with "hero" categories of appliances, mattresses and baby goods. Is this enough for them to hang on to such a large location in Polo Park? Probably not.

A better strategy might be to retreat from the mall and use the money to build on the Sears Home brand in Manitoba. The company already has a location close to Polo Park. They could stand to have more in the city and the province.

Polo Park owner already has a 97,000 square feet of space to fill with Zellers closing. The mall is already in a knock down drag out battle for U.S. retailers with St. Vital Centre and Cadillac Fairview, owner of Polo Park, might be looking to grab Sears space as well.

The retail landscape is changing quickly and Sears is struggling badly. They still have some options compared to Zellers laying down and dying. The time to execute those option is quickly coming.

Perhaps we really will hear that the rumours of Sears at Polo Park is closing are true.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Cityplace Casino

CityPlace with MTS Centre at Right.

CityPlace with Walkway to MTS Centre. Photo by Bryan Scott.

CityPlace was Winnipeg's first downtown mall built in 1979. It emerged from the ashes of the closure of Eaton's catalogue division in 1977 and initially was called Eaton Place.

It would be wrong to say it was not a success at the start. It was. The mall and office portion of the building were a going concern and Eaton's beside it did well.

The opening of several more malls all in a matter of years including Portage Place had an impact on shopping everywhere. However, the writing was on the wall and with the movement of multiplex movie theatres to the suburbs, the younger crowd that inhabited the mall left as well.

In 2001, Eaton's closed for good and it is a wonder we didn't see Eaton Place go as well. However, the newly re-branded Cityplace had the income from its offices to sustain it as well as generous revenue from the parkade and parking lots. The building has increased in value in every decade since it has been open unlike Portage Place.

The mall is a shadow of itself now. The connection to the MTS Centre built in 2004 did not help the mall in a meaningful way other than ensure that the restaurants still had people to come to them. The extended walkway in 2010 also helped in that regard as people from the Winnipeg Convention Centre came over to use restaurants.

The mall continued to serve a very niche local business area but it was not a destination mall nor did it have a huge retail anchor. The prospects for Cityplace all changed when the Winnipeg Jets returned last year.

While the Manitoba Moose were appreciated, they drew a smaller crowd, more of a family crowd and one with a more limited budget.

The arrival of the Jets and some rushed renovations to upgrade from True North drew a commitment from the province of Manitoba for further investment in the MTS Centre in the form of video lottery terminals. At present, those VLTs are in the Tavern United across the street with revenue going to pay off the arena.

Public support from the city and the province will rise to $11 million a year with all the revenue from tax discounts and VLTs added in. I don't know the economics of this. I have to suspect that the province makes a lot of money back on sales tax for liquor and merchandise sales, food and for parking. The city has fewer revenue streams but if the property values around the MTS Centre have risen, it may be worth the investment.

The fact that Longboat and Artis are building a large complex across from the MTS Centre indicates that the investment in MTS Centre is paying off. By my reckoning, the increased tax from off site might well make up for the discount the arena gets. However, I am not a accountant so I can only guess. It would be nice if someone actually did an economic impact study of the subsidy and how it affects government and business for Winnipeg and the province.

Back to the casino though...

I have long advocated a return of a casino to the downtown. I had said it would be a great way to get the Winnipeg Convention Centre the expansion they wanted. In the end though, the three levels of government stepped up and work is being down now.

All that was left was to fulfill the promise the NDP government made to True North about more VLTS to pay for improvements to the arena. The rumour had been that a sports bar was coming and the talk was the Shark Club, a sports chain in every western province except Winnipeg. But wait, we have a Shark Club. Doh, wrong club!

Like the problems we faced with Calgary's Cowboys coming to town, someone has registered and is using the Shark Club name on Lombard. If the Shark Club wanted to come here and use their name, they would likely have to make a deal with the Winnipeg club using the name these last years. Ask the The Brick how they feel that worked out for them when they sued Brick's Fine Furniture.

We finally know some of the details about what the province is planning. We are not just going to see the Tavern United's VLTs combined with new VLTs in a new restaurant. We are going to see a full restaurant and casino with 140 slot machines, 2 poker tables and 4 blackjack tables.

Holy big difference from VLTs, batman!

Some local bloggers have indicated there are a strong gains that can be made to the facility that holds a casino. We can expect this is going to trigger a property value increase as well as help elevate the value of all surrounding property in 2013 and beyond.

Some of the negative comments from bloggers and people posting to Free Press and CBC pages is in regards to gambling.

No argument there. Still, prohibition comes with ill effects too.

Would eliminating gambling and drinking cause more crime than regulating and taxing said vices? I think there is strong evidence to support that it does.

The provinces online gambling site is now love today. I think that might have a bigger impact than the casino.

As more details come available, we will see what the name will be, what the look will be and how the casino will be in relationship to the MTS Centre.

My view is that there is more good in this decision than bad. It will be interesting if in later years what the Jet Effect will actually be.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New Neighbourhood For Charleswood

Charleswood Forest Area - 23 Homes

The City's Favoured Option

Presently Forest and Dumping Ground
Charleswood is a strange neighbourhood with developed and undeveloped land scattered throughout. Some areas are sometimes reserved for future roads such as the lands along Haney Street. Other land is awkwardly situated or awaits a unique infill proposal or neighbourhood plan.

In and around Varsity View Community Club, many houses were constructed from around 1997 and for about ten plus years after into new subdivision Bloomer Crescent. Prior to building, the land was brush and fingers of forest extending into Charleswood.

While many deer roam the area, the land was and has been a dumping ground of trash. Walk down any one of the trails in and find an old sofa or lumber just strewn about. The dirty little secret of the brush areas in Charleswood is that they are often not just pristine forests and meadows but potential places to step on a nail.

At some point in a very dry season, we are going to lose a large section of forest and possibly homes as they fall to fire. The Assiniboine Forest was badly ravaged by a wind storm about five or six years ago. There is quite a lot of deadfall and leaves and the fingers extend into several neighbourhoods.  It is a disaster waiting to happen.

Now this doesn't mean we should pave the whole thing as a safety measure. However, it doesn't mean that every stand of trees needs to be a park.

Charleswood has always been a bit of a different bird with ditches and a lack of concrete roads. However, in recent years, there has been a move to improve older housing stock and to infill where possible. The density has increased incrementally.

For those drivers commuting down Laxdal Road between Roblin and Grant, there has been some new developments. A very tiny bungalow near Varsity View Community Club was torn down. There are still many 1940s and 1950s houses scattered around the neighbourhood, some with no basements and with little prospect save for developing the land. It is hard to believe that some of them are even still standing.

Laxdal Road, knocked down and ready for a house
It is the rare occasion that you see something salvageable from some of these houses as many didn't even seem built to a particular code. One house on Elmhurst was lovingly restored but it was a long process and appeared driven by passion of the work rather than sound economics.

However, back to Laxdal is a very well used street for a variety of reasons. The corner of Laxdal and Grant has a traffic light and is home to Royal Elementary School, Charleswood Shopping Centre, a bus park and ride and a number of daycares. It is a busy place and drivers use it to move from Roblin to Grant and vice versa.

In addition to the tiny bungalow knocked down this past summer, we have seen a zoning sign go up on the west side of Laxdal between Parkin and Grant. It has already been vandalized so it might not be clear what is going up. I am here to report it is 23 or 24 homes between Bramble Drive and Laxdal Road.

From the air it looks like this:

Scrub forest between Bramble and Laxdal
I have walked through these woods many a time and emerged at Geraldine off of Bramble. The houses on Bramble were built all through the 1980s.

At some point, it was probably planned for houses in the area between as Geradine dead ends right at the forest.

City officials have okayed one of the plans presented by the developer. It is for two roads accessing the some infill development. Geraldine Drive would pass from Bramble to Laxdal Road giving fire and emergency vehicles two points of entry and exit.

Now, I am in favour of the development. I see no reason to preserve this particular isolated area of forest. It has been a dumping ground for decades, the trails are not particularly noteworthy and it is not connected to Assiniboine Forest save for the deer who roam the streets around Varsity View taking particular delight in gardens.

To be frank, we have enough on our hands preserving the bulk of Assiniboine Forest. It is 287 acres of mainly aspen trees with various extension of wood and brush beyond that. There are few places anywhere in the world that have incorporated an urban forest in their city.

The city is not losing precious green space approving this deal. It is gaining density (albeit just a little bit with bungalows) and a new tax base from land that sat fallow.

Royal School's future is more solid with families choosing to live nearby. The bus route on Grant will be better used with students using it to travel to nearby junior and high schools.

It is a good use of the land.

I have no idea what the houses will look like. Suffice to say that it is difficult to find character homes without a lot of money having to be spent. Let's hope they are attractive in their own way due to the people living in them.

My only concern will be traffic. My personal view is that if Geraldine goes through from Laxdal to Bramble that many people will use Laxdal as an entry and exit route to the homes beyond Bramble.

Why? Well, the reason is the traffic lights. It is easier to turn at the lights than it is at Bramble where a bus might be in the curb lane near the school or a car is tailgating you. I see driver's making the choice to just turn on the street with the light.

The city may have to deal with  a lot more traffic on the street and a line up of cars turning left onto Geraldine.

Still, this is not enough to say no to this deal. I say go ahead with it but remember to follow up with the driver habits that may follow.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tow, Tow and Keep Towing

Towed in Winnipeg

I have been towed once. I went to Manitoba Theatre Centre to a play and missed signs up indicating they would be removing snow banks. It was a little upsetting as I didn't see the signs and thought that any clearing would take place after 11 in any event.

Lesson learned. Whenever I park for something like the theatre now, I usually look for a parkade or check for signs.

Winnipeggers got a free pass for the winter storm earlier this year. The new system was still getting into place. There was confusion about zones, about garbage pick-up and about everything it seems. People were told there would be no similar latitude given for a future snow. Afterall, there is some personal responsibility to try and find out when streets will be cleared around you.

There still seems to be confusion on putting garbage out in the bins on assigned days that may also be plowing days. The city needs to sort that out. However, it is a separate issue from parking.

Let's be clear: If it is three or four days since the storm and your car is still piled high with snow and not been moved, don't act shocked if it is hauled off to the impound.

And let's face it, there are cars all over town like that. They are snow covered and parked on every street. Drifts are around them as their owners probably lie on a beach in Mexico somewhere.

It is time these thoughtful citizens came back home and found out their cars are no longer there. The tickets should be coming out fast and furious and the cars towed off to an impound. Act like a dick and pay a couple of hundred dollars for it.

There are so many drivers who get off scot-free for making the roads a mess. It is said that 800 cars got towed in a 24 hour period. We need to do even better than that for people who think they got away with parking this time around. Even now, I see cars piled with snow, no ticket and no tow.

The lack of courtesy, the awful state of curb lanes and reduced parking will only be dealt with by a severe penalty for lack of compliance.

I'm sorry if you got towed in the last days. Did you not think it was even a possibility when you left your car out?

Take responsibility people.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Stores and Restaurants

7/Eleven and Little Caesar's to be Joined by Five Guys

Original Joe's to Unicity
Five Guys Burger and Fries has built in the east of the city and the south of the city. Well, St. are about to get your big burger joint for your own. Located at Rouge and Portage, it next door to D-Jay's which recently got the squeeze in its parking lot by a landlord next door. A McDonald's is almost directly across the street as well.

I think in this neck of the woods, there will be no limit to your burger choices.

My recollection is that there used to be a Japan Camera location at this corner and maybe a Presto Pizza. In the last years, Japan Camera has retreated from the market of Manitoba. Likewise, Presto Pizza might be one of the casualties of the Pizza Wars as they are no longer in the western part of the city after abandoning Charleswood and St. James.

Another new arrival to St. James is Original Joe's. They will be located in Unicity adjacent to a Domo gas station. It would appear that Original Joe's, a western based restaurant chain has found success in the old Grapes location on Kenaston and is ready to expand to Portage Avenue.

As for the menu of Original Joe's, it is a mix of burgers, chicken finger, poutine and the like. More for adults who want a drink and after work or sport social occasion. I don't know if kids are not allowed but word is that some places like this and Earl's are not the place to bring them. Heard Hooter's has high chairs though.

It really looks like the secondary stores and restaurants are close to throwing there doors open. Bouclair's is probably ready soon although their signage is not up. Last week, worst kept secret that Dollarama will be next to Ikea was revealed. They sought approval for a sign on the fascia. They will be located next to Bouclair's.

Cabela's at the back of the site very much looks like the exterior is nearly done. Completion is expected within four month.

For those concerned that HMV was going to close, they had a very successful Christmas in Canada and now looked to to rescue troubled parents HMV UK which has gone into bankruptcy. It just goes to show that people still do like DVDs, music and accessories in a store front if priced and arranged properly. One wonders what might have happened if more successful Blockbuster Canada had taken over mismanaged Blockbuster USA.

Some have made the case that there is no business model for non digital rentals or purchases. Red Box has proved there is a business model for renting. However, I think Blockbuster blew it by not putting kiosks outside their stores. And by outside, I mean right outside their doors and every other location willing to host a machine. Not everyone wants to pay a subscription fee for Netflix if they don't watch more than two movies a month.

Harvey's Restaurant fight to take over the old Chicken Delight location at Stafford and Corydon has reached an ending. Council has approved the takeover by Harvey's. Site improvements are part of the deal.

The restaurant had been on site since 1981 but the rules on drive thrus changed after it was open which prevented any others from opening. The location could be used for the same use but only if it was done within one year of closure. That deadline passed by two months.

There may have been some trickery to prevent a seller and buyer from meeting.

I don't like trickery and it appears council felt there might have been some of that happening. The deal was approved despite opposition from civil servants.

I didn't want to see a repeat of what happened across the street when a gas station closed and the old building remained there for YEARS. Nothing was developed there for a long time. More than a year empty was long enough for the Chicken Delight building.

Corydon in recent years has received a lot of pushback from residents about business on the street,. It remains to be seen if a Harvey's will be a good neighbour. I think an empty lot with decaying building is a worse neighbour.

Edit: I forgot to mention that Original Joe's is opening opposite St. Vital Shopping Centre. The Wendy's is up and running in the same area opposite the mall.

Edit: Updated on Council vote today on Harvey's.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Idle No More - The Next Moves

Idle No More - Portage and Main - Global TV
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs declined to meet with Stephen Harper last week because the Governor-General David Johnston would not be present throughout the meeting.

Over the years, I have heard of similar appeals to an authority higher than the prime minister of Canada. The last one was made in 2009 for a meeting with the Queen in London. She received notice and passed it on to her prime minister in Canada as she always does.

What I have not heard from any First Nations leader is why the Governor General needs to be present or what authority he might have to compel policy changes.

For many decades, it has been standard protocol for a letter of grievance to be presented to the Vice-Regal or Queen which is passed onto her government in Canada.

At no time in our modern history has the Queen or Vice-Regal representatives been present for the nuts and bolts talks of government policy.

The Governor General has an important constitutional role but intervention is only permissible under the most narrow of circumstances.

So the question remains, what type of role do they believe the Governor General can play if he cannot discuss policy lest he risk undermining the Crown's executive, legislative and judicial branches?

Idle No More's main concerns have not always been entirely clear. The vagueness comes in part because there are 600 or more First Nations and a lot list of issues. However, there seems to be agreement that a lot of the present protest motivation comes from two bills in Parliament from the Harper government pertaining to First Nation governance and to water.

The First Nations have every right to ask for a meeting with the prime minister and by all accounts, he agreed to it and future meetings. It was also agreed that a The Governor General would be present at the beginning for the ceremonial process as well as to receive grievances.

This was accepted by some First Nations. It was not accepted by Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

Division among aboriginal leaders could not be sharper.

Derek Nepinak of AMC has stated:

(Idle No More) has the people and the numbers that can bring the Canadian economy to its knees.
He has also stated any meeting will be First Nations terms not the prime minister's.

It is pretty strong talk.

So, if the hang up for Derek Nepinak is that the Governor General will not be at the meeting, what exactly does he hope that his presence will do?

It seems some First Nations chiefs will take their meetings with the prime minister and try to get substantive changes or action on their issues.

It remains to be seen how long Manitoba First Nations will be on the outside looking in when it comes to future aboriginal talks. By then maybe the focus of Idle No More might be on the chiefs themselves.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Portage Place

Portage Place Imax to Shut Down in March
I have written and talked a lot about Portage Place since 2008. Suburbanist and urbanists alike hate it. Not since Unicity Fashion Mall has a shopping area so universally been unloved. And we see what happened with Unicity.

The comments of the suburbanists run along this line:

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.

The outright hatred, dread and disdain of suburbanites of almost anything downtown is so deep, I have heard some people say they won't even go to a Winnipeg Jets game for fear of crime, parking and people who don't look like them.

The surprising thing is that some people do not believe The Forks is downtown and don't harbour the same ill feelings about the place. Why is that? Well, we'll get to that in another post.

All this city wide talk on Portage Place is a result of the impending closure of the Imax Theatre. The theatre built in 1987 with 276 seats has become obsolete in recent years due to its size and inability to land first run movies or 3D. The writing was on the wall. Polo Park's new Imax with 433 seats and 3D hastened the death.

Finding a new use for the theatre won't be easy. It represents challenges when it comes to its structure. That will be up to Peterson Group of Vancouver to decide.

There always seems to be the naive belief that the University of Winnipeg will swoop in and take over all the empty spaces downtown. I supposed it isn't inaccurate to say the university has indeed jumped on abandoned bus stations, racquet courts and army surplus stores. However, there is a limit to how much, how far and how often the university can do this.

The closure of Zellers and long term future of The Bay have a role in what happens to Portage Place. People forget that the goal of the mall was to link the north side of Portage from Eaton's to The Bay. Well, Eaton's is gone and the The Bay may be following. 

So what of the future of Portage Place?

Well, the one upside of Portage Place is the parkade. It makes money. A lot of it. However, the Peterson Group doesn't own it. If they did, they might be compelled to make additions to the mall such as a tower atop the east and west pads that have stood ready for years for whatever was desired above the mall.

The Prairie Theatre Exchange continues to thrive in the mall. 

Despite the common belief of a completely empty mall, the places does have tenants and more service-based businesses like dental clinics find the place useful as their downtown clients find they are convenient.

I still think the key to leveraging change lies with the parkade but North Portage Development Corporation seems reluctant to discuss that option since they use the money to subsidize other operations.

I have mentioned before and others are starting to repeat it: The food court attracts a bad element. It should be closed in favour of sit down casual dining to attract a hockey, business and an entertainment audience. However, that is a decision for Portage Place management.

It is possible that the LongBoat and Artis development will stimulate Portage Place to do their own makeover. Polo Park and St. Vital have all gone through major renovations whereas the downtown mall has not. Even Winnipeg Square and the Richardson Concourse have had upgrades.

Now that the Jets have returned, there are 10 years of labour peace in the offing. The Manitoba Hydro building is across the street, a hotel and office tower will be soon built. The potential is there for Portage Place to benefit if the ownership and the North Portage Development Coporation is willing.

As a few people have pointed out, it is always one fire after another being put out downtown. Still, we are seeing successes here and there. The continued growth of population around Waterfront Drive will be felt for years. Apartment conversions of hotels will bring a steady population to some streets. And new apartments will help cover surface parking lots. With people comes businesses. 

Portage Place is not going anywhere, anytime soon. And this is a problem in more ways than one. Still, there is no need to panic just yet. We have to see what developments around the MTS Centre will bring.

edit: Change CentreVenture to North Portage Development Corporation

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Return of the Winnipeg Jets - Post Lockout

After Labour Fight, the Jets Return
I don't have to remind anyone in the city how cruel it seemed that we just get our team back and we have a labour dispute and no hockey. I don't know if this deal is a good deal for the NHL or not. I don't know if it is a good deal for the Winnipeg Jets. I guess the evidence for that is yet to be produced.

I suspect that for some southern teams, the only way the deal works is if local governments continue to pour money in.

How will Winnipeg fans react to the return of the team? I think they will be back. However, certain players on the team are going to be in for more scrutiny this year due to their locked out performances. Evander Kane will be under the microscope. He would have faced increased pressures to become a star regardless of the lock out. Still, a few publicity related gaffes have drawn ire. All is forgiven if he does his job and does it well though.

No doubt Ondrej Pavelec will face an unexpected scrutiny as well. His off season drunken driving conviction and so so performance overseas in hockey raises questions. And not just with the fans. The management of the team hadn't spoken to him all through the summer because he wasn't here. Imagine their surprise later when a contract is signed about the DUI.

Ron Hainsey was a key negotiator for the players. He was extremely tough. Right or wrongly, people are going to ask if he will be tough on the ice this season too. he has to step up. Any player regarded as being soft is going to rankle.

I think our Jets ownership continues to show class. By all accounts, Mark Chipman was regarded as a credit at the table. At the time, it looked like a deal was in the offing.

It is a short season and anything can happen. It will be a sprint to the play-offs and if the Jets get in, I expect the city to go nuts.

As far as the side effects of the Jets return, I believe there will be a renewal of interest in restaurant and bar owners establishing themselves downtown. The casualty of 4Play Sports turning into a supper club is not entirely a bad news story. If the owners think they can get more people on nights other than game days so much the better.

The format change does indicate that just because the MTS Centre is close doesn't mean you don't need to be fleet footed in your operation. Still, a ten year deal for hockey means that food service people can plan longer term.

If there is evidence for long term planning, it is with the Chipman family themselves. Their company Longboat partnered with Artis are well underway with their commercial development across the street. The mixed use development will feature giant restaurant Milestone's and an Asian restaurant.

Overall, we have ten years of labour peace, a beloved team back where they belong and development plans to create some excitement in and around the MTS Centre.

I think even the grumpiest among us will say:

Let the games begin.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

In Defence of the Winnipeg Convention Centre

Winnipeg Convention Centre Expands
There continues to be naysayers to the Winnipeg Convention Centre's expansion or to whether even the present operation should continue to be run. The main argument is that the city and province should not be in what is a declining business, compete against other venues and hotels and be subsidized.

The Canadian Taxpayer's Federation said a scaled back version of the expansion was more desirable. They fell short of some other critics who said the whole tri-level government government project was a fool's game. Some media have said the facility has been a sinkhole since inception and has no value. What seems to get them most riled up is the $3 million split between the city and the province to cover the loss of operations. The city and the province contribute around $4 million to Economic Development Winnipeg as well. Do critics think that is ill spent too? Or is their dislike for the Convention Centre even greater?

I'm not big on losses either and definitely think there are ways to keep from having to have the city and province backstop the building. For example, I often wonder why food services are not a whole lot better. The Centre Place Cafe often only operates Monday to Friday. Attend any trade show and you will find the food vendors to be too few and the selection of food more what you would find at a football game. Um, is it too much to ask for a Tim Horton's or other franchises? Wouldn't they make money?

Aside from food services, one wonders if the $3 million could not have been made up from parking fees. Portage Place raised its rate to $10 for a hockey games. Raising the rates to $10 for three hours at the Convention Centre all the time could potentially bring in half a million in a year.

The absorption of  surface lots this year plus changing the parking times and rates on the street has made the parkade more valuable. And the expansion adds another 150 parking spaces bringing the total to 710 spots. And even that won't seem enough when attending many of the trade shows.

For those who seem adamantly opposed to the convention centers, I agree we shouldn't be trying to compete in attracting conventions that might come our way once in a blue moon. But what about tried and true local trade shows and conventions?

Where do they go if we shut down the Convention Centre? I have not heard any suggestions and one suspects that some of the critics don't care. They will say if there if there is a business case for it, the private sector will step up. Well, you can make that case for everything including the entire system of government. I am not quite sure having the Hudson Bay Company take over country operations again is the way to go.

Throughout our history, public facilities have been used to host trade shows. The Winnipeg Auditorium built in 1932 during the Depression was served as the place for conventions and trade shows right up till the 1960s. It also served as the home for the home or fulfilled the purposes of our present Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Manitoba Museum, the Centennial Concert Hall and the MTS Centre. In all the years this Art Deco style building operated, it was only once made money. It was established to serv a "public good." Today the building still serves a public good as the Manitoba Provincial Archives.

I am sure that some of the crankier people out there would say if an art gallery or museum can't make a business case for their operations, they don't deserve to be around. Well, I for one am glad that these institutions all had a place to call home even if no money was to be made.

I believe the city does need a hall to host trade shows and conventions. I don't know how easy it is to measure the economic importance such a facility has but consider this: Downtown hotel rooms and restaurants are filled for big shows and parking lots are packed. Lots of business gets done in terms of people purchasing wedding items, boats and home renovations among a number of products and services at shows.

How much business do some of these companies make in a year when they fill a whole order book for new kitchens? Does it not make sense that maybe through a variety of business, sales and personal taxes, the government gets back what they invest?

Winnipeg has benefited strongly from having trade shows and conventions. Moreover, they are fun. Now, this in no way means we should aspire for the new renovations at the Convention Centre to mean poor management and greater supports from levels of governments. I think it is possible to get close to break even or even small surpluses based on fees, franchises inside and possibly advertising.

The outright skepticism and cold water poured onto the Convention Centre and namecalling it a white elephant is not exactly accurate. But if silencing the critics by generating more revenue helps, then by all means it should happen.

Friday, January 4, 2013

This Blog In 2012

Started at 12,000 end at 20,000
To tell the truth, I don't really look too much about traffic counts and the like when it comes to this blog. Someone said I should have better stats than Blogger so I am using Google Analytics starting this year. I guess the only thing I don't do is count my own page views in terms of what Blogger tracked.

The big thing about my blog is that I know some people use it just to find other city blogs. That's okay. I have been somewhat remiss in updating my blog list. I am doing that as we speak so that people can can link up and find things. Over the years, we have gained a few great blogs, lost a few.

The Internet Pundits radio program on UMFM has been good at introducing the city to new bloggers. City Circus and The Great Canadian Talk Show also have been instrumental in drawing attention to civic issues.

It is funny that we have far less coverage of city hall by full time reporters and yet this has been a "feet to the fire" year for elected and civil servants there. I have no idea what accounts for this. To be honest, there has been a renewed interest all across Canada in how we live, what we do, how we are governed locally. However, one thing is certain: More is being written about local concerns than ever before.

In terms of what were the biggest posts of this past year, I'd say nothing got more views locally than Polo Park and the stores there as well as Seasons of Tuxedo and Ikea. However, the top post of 2012 is when I wrote about The Orbit Tower in London and how it would be great to do something like that for Winnipeg. I suspect that people were more interested in the pictures than the story but it is challenging Swiss Chalet for top post viewed on the site.

We love Swiss Chalet

The top referring sites are defunct ones that were great blogs locally. Some current blogs are great places that sends traffic my way. Thanks for that.

Some city blogs are best traffic sources
My blog was a mix of entertainment, politics, business and my opinion on things. I am not a news reporter. I try to be informative but I do things according to my likes and dislikes. I try to be fair but do take a position on certain subjects.

In 2013 I will probably do as I have done in the past and post on things of interest. Some bloggers like West End Dumplings are great historians. Anybody Want a Peanut was excellent on analyzing certain issues or just goofing off. The View From Seven jumped into subjects that made you go hmm. And Slurpies made sure satire was always at the forefront of issues that he wanted to talk about. A few blogs that are no longer around that I miss terribly. There are few others I will mention in a later blog post about blogs in general.

What does the future hold for the city? Well, I think we can look forward to what happens with the mayor's court case, the opening of the new stadium, Target in the city, rapid and active transportation, Kapyong barracks and the unexpected.

And by unexpected, I mean...will we get a huge blizzard this year that shuts things down, will we flood, will will be dry, will a crime story make us question everything?

I enjoy the writing, especially on a day like this when I am feeling a bit sick.

Hope people have enjoyed and please send any feedback. Happy New Year everyone.