By Stefano Grande and Sachit Mehra
It’s been an incredible year for our City.
With FIFA Women’s World Cup drawing in thousands of Americans, Australians, and international tourists into the City and the CFL’s 103rd Grey Cup showdown between the Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa Redblacks, the perception of Winnipeg and its downtown was elevated, making it the place to be this year. Our belief in our city was confirmed by National Geographic, who ranked Winnipeg as one of the best places to visit in the world. This does not happen by chance – it is a result of all of the buzz and hype that’s created with major events like FIFA and Grey Cup, and with the abundance of tourists and locals taking in the experience. We are North America’s best kept secret.
Hotels were booked solid, restaurants were ready and eager to serve food and drink, and Winnipeggers were proud and pumped to take part in the atmosphere. The energy and pride was felt on sidewalks, and could be seen if peered in the windows of downtown establishments. Through our partnership with the City of Winnipeg, downtown was spotless, clean, and inviting, as the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ’s hundreds of staff and volunteers hit the streets with the goal of providing a safe, clean and welcoming environment. Getting to and from the downtown, too, was made easier with support from Winnipeg Transit and initiatives like a free downtown circulator. The business community put out its welcome mat to the rest of the world.
When FIFA rolled into the City, Winnipeggers were treated to seven world-class matches. The elite teams, coaching staff, family and friends arrived in Winnipeg from places as far as Sweden, Nigeria, USA, Australia, Thailand, Germany, China, Ecuador, Japan and New Zealand. Welcome to the centre of the continent!
The US soccer team was seen out-and-about signing autographs and walking around our downtown, with young fans waiting on the street corners to see their favourite players. And the international media was here too, broadcasting stories of Winnipeg and FIFA across the oceans. Our city was buzzing with kids and families wanting to feel the vibe of the tournament.
The 103rd Grey Cup, too, was a week-long Canadian-style party, bringing CFL fans from across this great country. Perhaps more party-hardy than the normal sporting fan and aficionado, Grey Cup attendees are enthusiastically devoted to the sport of football, with many fans who were spotted shopping for that perfect souvenir to bring home to their loved ones. With all the Saskatchewan fans from out of town wearing their Roughriders colour, one would swear their team was in the final!
These national and international sporting events were important for many reasons, in increasing the visibility and enhancing the image of our city. This all plays into creating a positive psyche for Winnipeggers too. And the direct and indirect economic spin-offs are important. Combined, according to Economic Development Winnipeg estimates, these two events will contribute over $124 million to our local economy. Sport is big businesses, and we are hitting on all cylinders.
We often hear that density is critical for the success of our downtown. Residential density is key, office density brings our downtown alive during the day, and our downtown is indeed undergoing a great re-birth. But the density of national and international events is truly magical. It transforms places over a short period of time, and introduces visitors to our great city and their perceptions are made, here in our city centre. Our historical buildings, our Exchange District, The Forks and waterfront, and the diversity of our core truly are unique and world-class, and we should be proud. Some visitors came early, others decided to stay longer. Our restaurants, retail and nightlife deliver truly Winnipeg flavour and provide great memories. The economic impact is instant and dramatic.
Hats off to all those involved, our political leaders, our FIFA and Grey Cup champions and volunteers. 2015 will be a year to remember, perhaps the year that serves as a reminder that we have a world class City, which has finally arrived.
Sachit Mehra is the Chair of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ Management Board and Stefano Grande is the Executive Director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.