Downtown Winnipeg vs. Downtown Vancouver – is there any comparison?

By Stefano Grande (photo by Paul Krueger)

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk about our downtown’s growth at a conference held by Winnipeg Realtors. One of the participants asked if Winnipeg’s downtown could become as vibrant as Vancouver’s. It could – or at least close to it.
All we need to do is develop a better understanding of the property tax economics of density vs. sprawl and the land use tools needed to make it happen.
Vancouver’s downtown is regarded as a hub for shopping and entertainment, and is a place where people live and work, brimming with nighttime action. Tourism and convention-goers have also helped to drive economic development forward. Over the last decade, Vancouver’s downtown has helped to transform the area into a world-class destination.
The addition of gourmet markets, luxury residences, fine-dining restaurants and high-end boutiques has helped to spur an increase in the residential population, bringing the density to about 100,000 people.
This growth is being driven by two market forces. First, growth is driven through offshore investment and immigration. Second, Vancouver’s downtown is finite, which forces density and high-rise development many cities wish they could have. Today, it is one of the most livable and walkable cities in the world. In essence, the ocean and the mountains are a boundary limiting sprawl, in turn creating density.
Winnipeg’s vast prairies invite sprawl
Winnipeg is not Vancouver. Our economy and immigration grow at a slower pace, and current land use development patterns favour sprawl. That’s what happens when you have plenty of prairies and no mountains or ocean.
But imagine if Winnipeg was to better manage suburban sprawl, and in doing so, created strong, resilient, walkable and vibrant neighbourhoods – the type of neighbourhoods that are healthy for people and great for taxpayers.
The rationale for doing so was made even more clear when the Downtown BIZ and its partners invited Joe Minicozzi, principal of Urban3 and an expert who specializes in analyzing the economic potential of dense development, to talk about the issues.
Proof that density pays
His research provides ironclad data proving infill projects, revitalization of historical buildings and density, have a much more efficient and significant economic impact than sprawl, leading to more sustainable cities and much less burden for the taxpayer. He is here to help Winnipeggers understand these principles.
There are indeed major challenges and costs associated with urban sprawl in Winnipeg. Despite this knowledge, the same development approvals happen time and time again. So perhaps it’s time for the city to create a tool to recreate the oceans and mountains of Vancouver to force density, vibrancy, and a more productive city.
Urban limits
Seriously, though, how about an urban limit line? A policy can be added for our city to create a better balance between infill and suburban sprawl. OurWinnipeg, the city’s land development framework, points in this direction, but for it to work, it needs teeth. In cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Waterloo and Montreal, boundaries to restrict growth and preserve green space are enforced. This pushes the real estate market and development inwards, creating stronger and more vibrant neighbourhoods, and ultimately, a more sustainable city.
Such an approach requires leadership from the province and the city to educate the community about urban growth boundaries and its positive impacts. What if developers were allowed to build single-family homes on the periphery of our city, but only if they committed to multi-family and infill units in key areas within the city? Many cities use this carrot-and-stick approach to create a fiscally healthy and vibrant city. There is no shortage of ideas and solutions to help to continue renewing our downtown and inner city. Let’s get engaged and discuss how to move forward.
Stefano Grande is the executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

Off the wall: Synonym team makes public art a priority

By Brenlee Coates

Even if you haven’t heard of Andrew Eastman and Chloe Chafe, you’ve likely seen their work.
As Synonym Art Consultation, the two seamlessly marry artists with meaningful projects while curating businesses’ walls with high-quality, contemporary art. Usually, they also throw parties to celebrate each art opening – and they’ve quietly become the social event of those evenings.
But lately, their accomplishments are getting harder to pin down. Off last year’s successful inaugural Wall-to-Wall festival (a mural exhibition with daily events coinciding with the week of Nuit Blanche), they are coming back with an even more extensive version of arguably their biggest undertaking to date.
The festival was birthed in West Broadway, a natural choice for the enthusiasts. “This is the best neighbourhood in Winnipeg, in my opinion,” says Andrew, sitting in a booth at The Tallest Poppy. “It feels like you’d come up off a subway and see it.”
They were warmly received by the West Broadway BIZ and neighbourhood businesses to host their first “experimental” festival. Some enduring pieces from the first Wall-to-Wall include an already iconic Dany Reede mural that graces the interior of The Handsome Daughter, a thoughtful piece called “Girl on Blanket” by Natalie Baird inside Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea, and a colourful exterior mural collaboration between Gabrielle Funk and Takashi Iwasaki that makes itself known at the local Food Fare.

Dany Reede's mural at The Handsome Daughter.
Dany Reede’s mural at The Handsome Daughter.
"Girl on Blanket" by Natalie Baird at Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea.
“Girl on Blanket” by Natalie Baird at Thom Bargen Coffee & Tea.
The mural collaboration between Gabrielle Funk and Takashi Iwasaki at Food Fare.
The mural collaboration between Gabrielle Funk and Takashi Iwasaki at Food Fare.

This year, the festival will expand into more uncharted territory. “People trust us now,” says Chloe. “We have kind of the track record now.”
Growing downtown
So far, the pair has already signed up downtown Winnipeg to benefit from its enduring public art and be part of the Wall-to-Wall celebrations. They’re also approaching Osborne Village. “We want to help downtown; we want to rejuvenate the Village,” says Chloe. “We want to take the city to the next level.
“Public art is just one of those things that’s really missing in the city… The second you start beautifying a neighbourhood, it makes people respect it more.”
Public art is what’s at the root of all of Synonym’s activity – from bringing gallery-quality exhibitions into public spaces like restaurants and businesses, or introducing permanent fixtures on building facades. “We’re really about maintaining that high level of contemporary art and democratizing it. So everyone driving to work to their 9 to 5 who might never go to a gallery sees it,” says Andrew. “It’s bringing what’s happening in the galleries onto the street,” adds Chloe.
Benefitting artists
Alongside the public, artists really benefit from this approach; they not only gain from the exposure, but win credibility for being able to tackle large-scale mural projects.
“To be able to market yourself as an exterior mural artist, you can be fully employed all year and go across the world. There’s such a demand for it,” says Chloe.
Symbiotically, the artists Synonym works with have been growing along with the scale of its projects and reputation. “Some of the first artists we started working with are now full-time artists,” says Andrew. “That’s not just because of us; we just helped to kind of light a fire under their butts and show them that they can do it.”
Rather than dwelling on what’s lacking, Synonym is inspired by the opportunities in Winnipeg’s landscape. “You can do anything,” says Chloe. “Everyone we know is just opening a business, opening a restaurant,” says Andrew. “You can just raise your voice and do something here.”
Working with established partners like Art City, Graffiti Gallery, Rainbow Trout Music Festival, Culture Days and Nuit Blanche Winnipeg, Chloe and Andrew will help bring facelifts to new areas and dynamic events to the city with Wall-to-Wall 2015 – plus add to their growing repertoire in West Broadway.

Last year's Wall-to-Wall festival was celebrated exclusively in West Broadway.
Last year’s Wall-to-Wall festival was celebrated exclusively in West Broadway.

In tandem with the return of Wall-to-Wall to the area, Synonym has an ongoing project centred in West Broadway with The Tallest Poppy Residency Program. For two days each month, artists work alongside patrons, fielding any questions about their process and interacting with the public, getting fed, and then leaving behind a site-specific art project in the restaurant.

Christian Procter at work as the artist-in-residence at The Tallest Poppy.
Christian Procter at work as the artist-in-residence at The Tallest Poppy.

After many experimental projects, the duo behind Synonym is finally starting to be able to predict its next move. “For the first time, like today, I feel like I can actually see a year from now,” says Andrew, who predicts Wall-to-Wall will become a full-fledged not-for-profit festival in 2016.
“It’s just been a lot of test tube babies,” says Chloe. “Every handful of months, it’s like, ‘cool, that experiment’s done.'”
For upcoming events, keep an eye on http://www.synonymartconsultation.com, or find them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The WSO should have the run of the Concert Hall

Photo: The WSO playing New York’s Carnegie Hall.

By Dorothy Dobbie

Almost 50 years ago, the Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall was built as the home of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, which since 1948 had been playing at the old Winnipeg Auditorium (now the Provincial Archives building) behind The Bay parkade. The new hall was also to be the venue for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s at-home concerts and later for the Manitoba Opera, both supported by the music of the WSO.
The Concert Hall was just one component of what would be the Centennial Arts Centre, and the Manitoba Centennial Centre Corporation (MCCC) was created to manage the new complex that was completed in 1968.
It was contemplated that MCCC would be a property management entity and to that end, the Act that created the managing body stated in Section 11(6): “The Corporation shall not sponsor, promote or accept responsibility in any way for any performance, concert or plan in the centennial centre or elsewhere.” This is a pretty emphatic statement that anticipated potential conflict should the MCCC be involved in booking acts that could compete with the resident tenants.
In 2005, the Doer government had Section 11(6) of the Act removed and the following year, the WSO was banished from the hall for the first two months of its season to accommodate a Broadway production commissioned by the MCCC. The result was a devastating $750,000 deficit for the WSO that year as patrons stayed home in legions.
Better and bolder
A better and bolder idea would be to restore Section 11(6) to the Act and then allow the WSO, impresario by nature, to manage the performance part of the hall in the same way the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre manages that venue and the Manitoba Museum operates its own programming. Both these organizations run their own shows and pay only a token fee in lieu of rent to the MCCC.
Removing the impresario responsibility from the MCCC would allow them to concentrate on their expertise as property managers without the distraction of managing performances – something the WSO does very well. (It should be noted that the WSO has been successfully and profitably managing Pantages for the past five years.)
It would remove the conflict developing over who books what or when. Last year, because of this conflict, the WSO lost two of its key fall weekends when it was shunted aside and had to perform on Thanksgiving and Halloween, affecting tickets sales and revenue. More dislocation is being forced on them in the coming year.
More conflict of interest?
Pretty well the entire board and management staff of the MCCC have been replaced in the past year. In the case of Angela Mathieson, the new chair of MCCC, a potential conflict of interest looms because she has also been hired as the CEO of CentreVenture Corp. CentreVenture is the key conduit for any downtown development.
In his 2014 Annual Report, CEO Rob Olson writes, “a decision was made to work with the City of Winnipeg to develop a request for proposals to solicit private development of a new parking garage on the MCCC James Avenue property.”
It is clear from this that the MCCC is contemplating being the catalyst for building the much-needed parkade behind the Concert Hall. There is good reason for this interest: currently parking lot rental brings in almost as much revenue as the Concert Hall.
The conflict arises because it is likely that CentreVenture would be the vehicle for brokering a parking lot deal. This raises a huge question: does the CEO of CentreVenture get to make deals that involve MCCC, which she chairs?
In pursuit of transparency
The cadre of fresh, young blood at City Hall is not there by accident. The electorate took a deep breath and opted for change and an open window on how things are done. There is no room for any hint of conflicting interests.
It would seem reasonable to expect that Ms. Mathieson would resign from the board of the MCCC to avoid any appearance of conflict. Perhaps she has plans to do so.
In the case of the MCCC, being in competition with its principle tenants is another clear conflict. It would be a far better thing to let the WSO manage the impresario side of the hall (including earning the revenue from concessions).
To make up for lost revenue, there would be no impediment for the landlord to negotiate a lucrative rental deal for outside acts.

It pays to stay and work in Manitoba

The tuition fee income tax rebate allows Manitobans to save up to $25,000 on their income tax.
The Manitoba Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate helps post-secondary graduates pay for their education while they live and work in Manitoba, by providing a 60 per cent income tax rebate on their eligible tuition fees.
Live here. Save here.
Students who graduate with a degree, diploma or certificate from a post-secondary institution recognized by the Canada Revenue Agency on or after January 1, 2007 and now work and pay taxes in Manitoba can benefit from the Manitoba Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate.
It doesn’t matter if their post-secondary training took place in Manitoba or elsewhere.
How it works
Graduates are entitled to receive a 60 per cent income tax rebate on their eligible tuition fees up to a maximum benefit of $25,000.
Here are some examples of what this rebate could mean to you:
Sample tuition fees                  60% Rebate
$40,000                                          $24,000
$25,000                                          $15,000
$5,000                                             $3,000
Provided they are living in Manitoba, post-secondary students can even apply for the rebate while they are going to school. They can claim a Rebate Advance in the form of a refundable 5 per cent tax credit on their tuition and ancillary fees.
Make your claim on your income tax return
Graduates can claim their Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate on their personal tax returns by completing the T1005 – Manitoba’s Graduate’s Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate form.
Post-secondary students may apply for the Rebate Advance by completing the MB479 – Manitoba Credits.
Find out more
To find out more about how Manitoba’s Tuition Fee Income Tax Rebate can help students and graduates put money in their pockets as they put down roots in Manitoba, please call the Manitoba Tax Assistance Office at 204-948-2115, or toll-free at 1-800-782-0771.

Take inventory of your finances – what’s in stock?

By Janice Desautels (photo by Ken Teegardin)

Change is upon us. In April, we can bank on the warmer weather arriving just like we can bank on tax time. The same time every year where we scramble to get ourselves organized to ensure that we are getting the best benefit from our deductions.
To do that, we should be running our personal financial house like that of a business. Ask and answer this question: if the success or failure of your personal life business is determined by how you control expenses and maximize profits, what type of business would you have?
Time to restructure
It’s time to take stock, and unfortunately, we only have ourselves to be accountable to – so how can we make it easier? One way is to first itemize all of the documents that you have, such as investments, savings, loans, insurance policies, benefits and pension information. A one-pager listing the account and plan numbers, renewal dates and tax documents required is one way to get started. Then have a file for each category so that throughout the year, you can easily add to it and it stays organized.
This time of year is also a good time for a review. Below are some ideas to help you get started.
Debts
Total the amount of interest you paid in 2014 from all sources of loans and credit cards. Do you want to pay that in 2015? By focusing on the amount of interest, you change the perspective on the debt. Reducing the interest means you are paying off the debt.
Itemize each interest charge and review whether there are more efficient ways to tackle it. For example, the compounding interest on credit card debt can get out of hand fast. Review how much the interest increases or decreases depending on your monthly payment.
Know what you pay and why you pay it.
Savings/Investments
Are these still in line with your goals – and was the rate of return what you expected? Again, review and understand the charges. Make it a rule to review this with your financial professional twice a year or more especially if your life circumstances are about to change.
Insurance
Firstly, if you have not spoken to anyone about the need for insurance, please do so. Secondly, if you do have a policy, review this with your insurance professional on a yearly basis as needs change over time. Most importantly, share this information with your family and also the location of the policy so they understand what you have prepared for in the event a tragedy strikes.
Benefits
Review the type of coverage and limits your benefits provide. Prepare the year to ensure that you take advantage of the full value. Make certain the coverage is still effective and if not, determine whether you need to change or add to your existing benefits.
Pension
This is something that is often overlooked until we are ready to retire but that is when it’s too late. Whether this is a savings plan done on your own or through your employer, it is crucial that you take stock of the value at least annually. If it is an employer-sponsored plan, it is important to understand the type, the accruing value and the limits upon retirement.
Review the annual statement to ensure that the correct contributions are being reported. For either plan, it is important to review whether it is fitting into your goals, and if not, how much more do you need to save to fill in the gap?
Janice Desautels has been working with families and individuals for the last seven years helping educate in the field of financial literacy. She is a Certified Financial Educator with over 15 years experience in teaching and training adults.

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