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New Development to Bring Big Changes For Winnipeg’s Downtown

In May 2023, Truth North Sports + Entertainment announced a deal to purchase Portage Place Mall in downtown Winnipeg. Truth North, which also owns the Winnipeg Jets, will invest $500 to $550 million to completely rebuild the area to add additional buildings, including a 30,000-square-foot urban health centre, estimated to cost $300 million. 

According to the Portage Place Redevelopment Plan, the project aims to create a “dynamic, purposeful, and community-minded space to advance the critical needs of urban improvement downtown.” 

The plan will partially rely on tax incentives from the Manitoba government and is hoped to improve the overall well-being of downtown Winnipeg. The Manitoba government has promised to support the health care aspects of this project, which are intended to create a healthy system of support and resources in what is presently Portage Place. 

“This is a defining moment for Winnipeg and Manitobans,” Premier Heather Stefanson said of the project. “With this reimagined space, we will connect communities by creating an urban ecosystem that serves and connects communities with supportive programs reaching everyone in Winnipeg.” 

The new development will include a primary care clinic, a walk-in clinic, a community drop-in centre, affordable housing units and student housing, and a grocery store. The primary care clinic is expected to give Winnipeggers another option for access to health care, reducing the patient load seen at the Health Sciences Centre. The Pan Am Centre for Advanced Musculoskeletal Medicine is a major attribute of the new build. This facility will include a sports medicine clinic, a minor injury and minor injury pediatric clinic, a concussion clinic, physiotherapy and more. This area is expected to take up to 200,000 square feet. 

True North Real Estate Development said in a statement on its website that the “program plan is intended to improve the urban health of downtown Winnipeg, and is based on the notion of breaking down the large monolithic structure into four simple zones providing for health equity; public spaces and greenways; neighbourhood services, culture and arts; and housing and food equity.”  

The Green space is expected to be near 100,000 square feet. It will have seating and medicinal plants with a walking path, a rooftop community garden and shaded area, a communal cooking area, and digital art displays. The overall outdoor spaces will exceed two acres. Listed community arts will be the YMCA and the Prairie Theatre Exchange. Overall, 1.5 million square feet will be worked over in the process of construction and deconstruction. The plan also states there will be over one thousand underground heated parking spaces. 

As the project gets underway, Truth North has promised to consult with the community throughout. Much of the existing physical structure will remain. However, by the conclusion of the project, the building will be approximately one-third larger than it presently is. 

“For decades, Portage Place unintentionally created a barrier between north and south neighbourhoods that make up our downtown,” Mark Chipman, True North Sports + Entertainment executive chairman, said in a release on the True North website. “Our goal is to transform it into a place that connects neighbourhoods, provides access to badly needed services, and has social and economic impact by building a sense of community mindedness.” 

Portage Place: The Rise and Fall 

Opened on September 17th, 1987, Portage Place was an exciting new mall meant to bring new shopping options to downtown Winnipeg. In a video from the CBC Archives, thousands of Winnipeggers are seen roaming the halls and going in and out of stores with bags full of new purchases.  

Since then, much has changed. Today, Portage Place is a desolate echo of what it once was. Upon opening, Portage Place housed nearly 150 stores. Today, there are around 90 stores open, with more than 35 empty storefronts with gates permanently locked shut. 

Crime in this area of the city is nothing new to Winnipeggers. According to CrimeMaps, found through the Winnipeg Police Service website, the section of the city called Portage-Ellice, wherein Portage Place is located, 153 violent crimes were reported between May 2022 and May 2023. This marks a 16.8 per cent increase from the previous year. Overall, crimes reported in the area had increased 9.1 per cent from the previous year. 

The Winnipeg Police Services CrimeMaps allows individuals a look at the rate of crimes occurring in the city. The map is updated monthly and operates using a three-month data lag, ensuring the accuracy of crimes reported. 

From May 2021 to May 2022, there was a 35 per cent increase in violent crime in the area and a 47.8 per cent increase in crimes overall in the neighbourhood. When considering the broader neighbourhood, it is more of the same. From Notre Dame south to Broadway and Colony east to Main Street, more than one thousand violent crimes were reported between May 2022 and May 2023, an increase of 18 per cent compared to the prior year. From 2021 to 2022 overall crime in this chunk of downtown increased 26 per cent and increased an additional 15 per cent from 2022 to 2023. 

Reshaping Downtown Winnipeg 

Members of the Southern Chiefs Organization have expressed hope in working alongside True North in healing the community. The Southern Chiefs Organization has invested $130 million into transforming what was formerly the Bay into a multipurpose centre called Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn, which translates to “it is visible.” The revitalization project, which was announced in Spring 2022, will include the creation of 300 affordable housing units for members of South First Nation communities as well as two restaurants, an art gallery and museum, and a rooftop garden. 

The True North purchase has come with much praise while also attracting the attention of some who are less optimistic. Criticisms include fears that True North is taking a stranglehold of the downtown area, considering the amount of property True North now owns. Some have even referred to the “True North” chant during the anthem at Jets games to have given the company “mythical status.” 

This is not the first investment True North has made to revitalize downtown Winnipeg. In 1996, Winnipegger Mark Chipman announced the purchase and relocation of the Minnesota Moose to Winnipeg, three years before True North Sports & Entertainment was incorporated. In July 2002, True North began construction of a new arena for the Moose, the MTS Centre, which took 28 months to complete, hosting its first game in November 2004. By 2005, the Juno Awards were hosted at the new arena and in 2007, the IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championship was hosted there. In 2011, True North officially took ownership of the Atlanta Thrashers, relocating them to Winnipeg in the same year. 

In 2015, True North spent $12 million to improve the Canada Life Centre, then called the MTS Centre. In February 2016, True North unveiled the project to create True North Square across the street from the Canada Life Centre. At 1.1 million square feet, True North Square costs $400 million.  

The project to rebuild Portage Place is estimated to take three years and will begin with the construction of the 15-storey Pan Am Clinic tower in 2024.  

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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