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Development plan has win-win potential

IN announcing the $1-billion plan to transform 84 acres of vacant land and surface parking lots between Portage and St. Matthews avenues over the next decade, Cadillac Fairview’s vice-president of development, Wayne Barwise, offered an interesting observation.

He noted the Polo Park area, anchored by the shopping mall, has long served as a “second downtown” to Winnipeg. There’s truth to that statement: the mall remains a popular destination, its shops and restaurants stay open later, it’s a natural transit hub, it still has a commercial movie theatre.

And now, as a result of the ambitious redevelopment plan proposed by Shindico Realty Inc. in partnership with Cadillac Fairview, the Polo Park area may also become known as a very desirable place to live.

The vacant land where Winnipeg Stadium used to stand could become the site of high-rise apartment buildings. Multi-storey apartment buildings — featuring a range of apartments available at a range of rates — could inhabit the surface park lots around Polo Park Shopping Centre, with main-floor commercial developments included in the plan.

Proposed renderings also show green spaces, trees and plazas.

“As a significant new population centre, this development gives us the opportunity to think differently about how we move around the area and the city itself,” said architect Brent Bellamy, a vocal proponent of urban renewal through densification rather than sprawl.

On its face, the plan looks like it could be a net positive for the area, as well as for the city at large. It could prove to be the building blocks of a vibrant, strategically located mixed-use area that shows what genuine density could look like. It could become a model for a truly walkable community, and perhaps might inspire similar density- forward infill developments across the city.

That is, if it’s done right. The Polo Park development can be an opportunity seized or an opportunity missed, depending on how much the built reality diverges from the aspirational proposal.

Winnipeg desperately needs affordable rental units, not just luxury apartments. It needs urban greenspaces. It needs areas that are not built for cars but instead prioritize active transportation. It needs developments that don’t just play lip-service to these ideas, but actually implement them in a considered way.

There are also the valid concerns that this project might pull focus from other high-profile revitalization efforts and, in the medium term, could have a deleterious effect on Winnipeg’s already beleaguered downtown core. The announced permanent closure of Town 8 Cinemas delivered another blow this week.

But there is a way to envision this as a win-win proposition. A new development in the Polo Park area in addition to evolving revitalization plans for downtown — including Southern Chiefs’ Organization’s considerable redevelopment plans for the former Hudson’s Bay flagship store — could be just the tent poles required to breathe new life into Portage Avenue as a whole.

There are, of course, still hurdles to clear, including the proposed development’s proximity to the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport. Revised city bylaws and provinicial amendments to the Airport Vicinity Protection Area Regulation should mean the Polo Park plan is no longer in a prohibited area, though the plans also need to be approved by city council.

But this much seems clear: leaving the Polo Park area — a prime location with seemingly unlimited potential — as a locale perceived by many as a mostly vacant concrete dead zone doesn’t amount to progress, for any part of the city.

Artist’s rendering of development around Polo Park.


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