By Stefano Grande, Executive Director, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ

Launched in 2014 by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, Downtown Trends has demonstrated with concrete baseline numbers just how our downtown has been turning around. The report aims to provide investors, entrepreneurs, government, and the public with a snapshot of the people who work, live, learn and experience downtown and further insight into the perceptions of the public and information about the developments that have generated increased traffic and significant re-investment in our downtown.

The report catalogues the impressive diversity of development projects and multi-billion dollar investments happening right now in the heart of our city. Over $2 billion of investment has been made in the diversification, animation, and residential revival of our city’s core – with more than 100 projects added, helping to bring people, investment, and vigour to the heart of our city. Over 1,812 new housing units have been built downtown, with an additional 845 units currently planned.

Population, as the report indicates, is trending upward. In the mid-80s, downtown saw its low point with only 11,000 people living downtown. Current population is estimated to be about 16,000 people – a significant boost.

Before 2005, there were considerable changes to development policies, of which mark the beginning of change in Winnipeg’s downtown:

  • Changes to the Downtown Zoning Bylaw made redevelopment of heritage buildings easier and faster, which then initiated a flurry of building conversions to condominiums and rental units.
  • The construction of the MTS Centre shifted development focus to the creation of amenities and services to draw suburban Winnipeggers back downtown.
  • There was a greater emphasis on rebuilding the downtown population by providing a mix of housing options. This priority has been supported through the Downtown Residential Development Grant Program, which provides grants of up to $40 million to help leverage multiple-family residential or mixed-use development in Winnipeg’s downtown.
  • Education was also a significant driver of downtown development and growth. Educational institutions like Red River College and the University of Winnipeg have augmented the physical landscape of Winnipeg’s downtown and have contributed to the growing downtown student population – currently at 24,000 students.
  • A commitment from all levels of government for long-term investment downtown. Government stabilized heritage buildings by renting them, then began to work with private/public sector to redevelop and reconvert for better use.

The research conducted for Trends was extensive and the process was collaborative. Indicators that were chosen for study ranged from investor-specific information, such as the number of developments built/constructed downtown, to facts that make downtown unique and enjoyable. With Downtown Trends, we now know that there are: over 210 free WIFI locations downtown; over 200,000 Winnipeggers follow downtown agencies on Twitter; over 20% of creative industries are located downtown; and downtown consists of 440,000 m2 of green space and 2,780 trees on parks and boulevards. Downtown is also greatly “walkable” with neighbourhoods scoring positively with respect to their access to public transit, commuting time, and proximity to people and places.

Marina R. James, President and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg Inc. said of the report: “Downtown Winnipeg is alive with big business opportunities that are attracting the attention of astute investors from all over the world. Capitalizing on this kind of unparalleled present-day momentum is critical to our continued prosperity, and that’s why Downtown Trends is such an integral asset. Research like this equips decision-makers with up-to-date data that yields a succinct yet powerful appreciation of prevailing market conditions within the city centre.”

The research in this report has been compiled by the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ with support from other downtown stakeholders like the University of Winnipeg’s Institute of Urban Studies, CentreVenture Development Corporation, The Forks North Portage Partnership, and Economic Development Winnipeg Inc., as well as from surveys and research the BIZ has undertaken. It is designed based on feedback from downtown retailers, realtors and stakeholders about how we can promote, sustain, invest, and stimulate business development in downtown.

The Downtown Trends report serves as an important toolkit and catalyst for future development downtown. Throughout 2014, tours with brokers, young entrepreneurs, elected politicians, and the media took place throughout downtown to highlight significant downtown statistics and figures, in addition to showcasing the developments that are making downtown a showpiece.

The Downtown Trends report hopes to inspire greater confidence in our downtown, presenting relevant research on investment opportunities and why people come downtown: to visit, work, dine, learn, shop, experience, and live. Civic, residential, and commercial downtown projects are conveniently catalogued based on their value, size, and development progress and is made accessible online. The full report can be found at: www.downtownwinnipegtrends.com or in print format.