Urban affairs experts are raising questions about the design of True North Square.

“There are still lots of questions that need to be addressed from a design perspective,” said Jino Distasio with the Institute for Urban Studies at University of Winnipeg.

“I hope with that scale of a project, every design detail is going to be taken into account, but it still doesn’t mean we can't influence that final step by saying ‘hey, what about safety? What about the  ultimate design? Can we do it better?’ There are lots of things to taken into account,” Distasio said.

Richard Milgrom, professor of city planning at the University of Manitoba says it’s important to raise questions before the square is built, not afterwards.

“I think it boils down to where we are putting the emphasis on public space and the public in general,” said Milgrom via Skype from Edinburgh, Scotland where he is currently on sabbatical. Milgrom said while overseas he has been following developments on True North Square.

The city and the province are spending $26.6 million on public amenities connected to True North Square.

Projected future property tax revenue from the development will be used to cover the costs.

“I think you should know what you’re funding before you commit to it,” said Milgrom. “We’re gambling on a rendering that was made many months ago before tenants and practicalities were taken into consideration.”

“There is very little that we have actually seen. We have seen renderings that are what, eight months ago?”

Milgrom is concerned the public part of the project focuses on an internal public space, concentrated in the centre of block of the development.

Milgrom said the public square, may be better served on the north-east corner of the square, which opens up to buses, City Place and MTS Centre. At the moment the towers in the rendering would make significant shadows on the north side of Graham Ave, he said.

“If it was more open and the Tavern United, actually the CTV building and the City Place, they would see more benefit to that public square, not just Chipman and his group,” said Milgrom.

It will be another month before the public can see the latest plans for the future square.

True North will unveil new designs of the project Feb., 23.

Despite questions, Distasio and Milgrom said the project is a positive step for Winnipeg,

“This is a transformative project,” said Distasio.

Distasio said Winnipeg has not seen such a large development driven by the private sector in a long time, “if ever.", and said it's bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into downtown, and brings the potential to attract conventions, games, events, with the public square acting as collector space.

“It’s a project with tremendous potential," said Milgrom. "Most of the pieces are there.”

Safety and Security

Being a mostly private space, Milgrom believes it will be treated as such when it comes to public safety.

"Those spaces that are primarily about the busineses that are there, not about a civic space for the public, so typically, privately policed, privately maintained, and in similar places, in other cities, if the private security doesn’t like what you look like, you will be asked to leave," said Milgrom. "That's not a public space."

He while it appears to be somewhat of a hidden space, he doesn’t think it will become a dangerous place because it will have that private security.

Public consultations

Distasio said it also would have been a great touch to see the public invited to weigh in with thoughts on the project.

“This is a largely private sector project, however, it has such a public dynamic you would have hoped there would be some engagement,” he said.

Distasio hopes opportunity for the public to weigh in may still be possible.

“That’s where we can still influence the final touches and details to deal with security and safety and make sure the nooks and crannies are worked out and well planned.”

True North told CTV Thursday it is possible there will indeed be public consultation on the public space in the future, but when that could take place has been determined.

The province, City of Winnipeg and CentreVenture are working with True North to ensure appropriate public space is a part of the final design.