Opening intersection good for economy, business groups say
KEY downtown stakeholders are throwing their weight behind the Coalition for Portage and Main, while pushing the message that a failure to reopen the intersection to foot traffic will stifle economic development.
This week, two corner properties at the iconic Winnipeg intersection — James Richardson & Sons and Harvard Buildings Inc. — came out in favour of tearing down the barricades.
That support was bolstered by ringing endorsements from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Winnipeg. Both organizations said no Winnipegger should make up their mind on this issue without taking into account the opportunity it poses for economic growth.
“Opening Portage and Main is the right thing to do. It’s the right thing for economic development. It’s the right thing for the city. We should encourage people to want more. Let’s not be entrenched in what was the best practice in the 1970s — it’s changed,” Dayna Spiring, president and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, said on Wednesday.
“We need to keep investing in the future. When we stop, we’re not in neutral, we’re in reverse. We have to be looking towards what we can become... I think people should listen to all of the organizations coming out and saying this is the right decision. But I also think they should look inside and ask themselves what kind of city they want to live in.”
Portage and Main has been closed to pedestrians since 1979. On Oct. 24, Winnipeggers will be asked about reopening the intersection on the municipal ballot.
While the referendum on Portage and Main is non-binding, Mayor Brian Bowman and rival mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk — who is considered his main challenger — have both said they’ll respect the outcome.
Harvard Buildings managing director Rosanne Hill Blaisdell said her company, which owns the building at 201 Portage Ave. as well as an adjacent empty lot, would like to invest more in the intersection, but its current setup has been a sticking point.
“We have an empty lot that is adjacent to our current building and we would love to develop it. I think the single biggest impediment to us moving forward with a vision for development is the fact that people can’t get to it,” Blaisdell said.
Her comments were made in a video testimonial filmed at the Coalition for Portage and Main campaign storefront in the underground at 201 Portage Ave. Volunteers have been staffing the storefront from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays in an effort to rally the “yes” vote in advance of the election.
“Portage and Main, right now, it’s been left to disrepair. It lacks pedestrian vibrancy and activity. We really believe this corner is an iconic corner and a place that needs to be celebrated, developed and invested in long term. It’s the heart and soul of Winnipeg’s downtown,” Blaisdell said.