Driving home our pride in Winnipeg

Dave Angus President and CEO of  the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce
Dave Angus
President and CEO of
the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce

One-tenth of a second … that’s all it takes to make a first impression. Even when it comes to cities, first impressions count.

That’s why, ever since Leonard Asper spoke out 10 years ago about how visually challenging the route is from the airport to downtown, the Chamber has been looking at ways to enhance a visitor’s first experience in our city as they head down Route 90, notably between St. Matthews and Ness avenues.

A tired-looking chain-link fence running beside an alley lined by overhead wires just doesn’t send a message that Winnipeg is a vibrant, exciting place to be.

And unfortunately, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Artist's conceptual sketch of the proposed Route 90 renewal.
Artist’s conceptual sketch of the proposed Route 90 renewal.

Initially, the Chamber brought together people from the neighbourhood, architects, engineers, landscapers and experts from Manitoba Hydro. We came up with a plan for what has been referred to as Chamber Way – bury the overhead wires and plant elm trees to provide a natural green backdrop, which would showcase a colourful meandering wall of murals to celebrate our rich heritage and diverse culture.

But the plan was nixed over safety concerns because of high speeds, snow clearing, plants that couldn’t handle road salt, unstable underground sewer infrastructure and cost – which skyrocketed into the multi-millions.

We started over. And again, we failed to make headway. It became clear we needed to work closely with the City’s Public Works Department to meet all of the stringent requirements, especially with respect to fencing.

With support from the mayor and Coun. Dan Vandal, the City’s administration was asked to come back with a plan to move forward. On Nov. 19, 2013, an administrative report was presented to the Standing Policy Committee on Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works, which suggested a polyethylene fence similar to Chief Peguis Trail would be feasible.

The cost for the fencing is high, $7 million, but we’re prepared to approach all three levels of government and the local business community to support the project. The fencing would be the first of four phases.

It’s critical that we consult with residents and businesses, but first we need something to consult on.

We’re proposing that after the issue of fencing is resolved, we look into landscaping – some greenery is a must, but there are limited options because of the impact of road salt.

The next phase would be lighting. Manitoba Hydro has identified options for decorative light standards that could accommodate banners to promote special events and our cultural and historical attractions.

And the final phase would be the banner program itself and public art.

It’s about showcasing who we are and what we’re doing, whether it’s playing host to the Junos, the Grey Cup, Centralllia or promoting our talent – the WSO, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, or the Winnipeg Jets.

Now is not the time to settle for being “like everyone else”. We must lead the pack and continue to encourage and inspire. Let’s be BOLD.

There is a renewed sense of pride in our community due to the many great projects that have elevated Winnipeg in the eyes of the world, from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

As one of the city’s key “image routes”, Route 90 must drive home the message that we’re proud of our city. It must not serve as a roadblock.

Dave Angus is president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

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