'It was pretty busy': Vendors optimistic about the future of Winnipeg's downtown
With the sale of Portage Place in the works, more people living and working in downtown Winnipeg, and a full slate of events planned for the summer, vendors and stakeholders think the future looks bright for the city's beleaguered core area.
"We certainly have a ways to go for recovery, but it is happening," said Pam Hardman, Director of Marketing, Engagement and Communications with the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.
Hardman feels the momentum building as more workers return to the office. As of September 2022, 64 per cent of workers had returned downtown.
"We anticipate that number is higher now. We are getting some new data fairly soon.”
Hardman said she's excited about the BIZ’s new initiatives like their Host it Downtown event grant, which offers up to $20,000 to help start new events downtown. The grant can also be used to expand existing downtown events and encourage other events to move to the area.
"We know that a downtown full of people is what drives economic activity, so we're excited to get that rolling for the summer," said Hardman.
The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ is also bringing back its summer concert series as well as Patio Fest, which debuted during the pandemic.
Business is also picking up at the Downtown Farmers’ Market, which has been running Thursdays at Cityplace for nearly ten years. The market shut down briefly in 2020, but was able to operate under various capacity restrictions during the pandemic.
Cindy Storozuk has been selling her handmade leather bracelets as Collection Sage at the market for eight years. She said foot traffic has definitely increased over the last few months.
"Last week there was a baker here. There was a lineup all the way out … they sold out in about 45 minutes, so it was pretty busy."
It's a sentiment echoed by Jill Nicholson, owner of Quicksilver Halo.
"I feel like there is definitely an increase this year of more people working downtown and that is starting to grow a little bit," she said.
But Nicholson said it's not just about getting workers to return downtown.
"We do depend a bit on downtown workers, but the people who live downtown always appreciated the market, whether we were outdoors in the summer or indoors, they definitely appreciated the fact that they had a place to come and get interesting gifts and get fresh food," she said.
Hardman said as more people move downtown, there will be more events focused on residents.
"I know 300 Main folks will be starting to move in later this year. It's about having people here beyond the 9 to 5, as well,” she said.
"The pandemic really taught us that we can't rely on workers alone."
Hardman said the trend of businesses closing down during the pandemic has flipped, and there's now a lot of interest in new businesses opening their doors.
"We are encouraging businesses to open downtown through a grant program that we have called the Building Business Grant," said Hardman. "We've seen over 30 applicants already, so we know the interest is there for folks to open downtown. People are seeing the value."
Hardman said so far this year, six new businesses have opened in downtown Winnipeg.
Renewal is also in air the air for Portage Place, which is in the process of being sold to the True North Group. On Thursday, city council voted 15-1 in favour of the sale.
Hardman said the BIZ is thrilled about the plans for the downtown mall.
"We're happy to see what True North has said about it," she said. "I know that there's still desire to have it be a mixed-use building, which is important. Part of the deal is to keep the skywalks open and to have community consultation."
Overall, Hardman is optimistic about downtown Winnipeg's future.
"We're doing what we can to create vibrancy in our downtown core, because it's really important for the whole city that we have a successful downtown. Cities are judged by their downtowns."
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