Tag Archives: City of Winnipeg

Planning for the future

State of the City
Brian Bowman

Hello and welcome to this month’s issue of Smart Biz!

Each year, the Province of Manitoba invites input into the preparation of their annual budget. In response to their invitation, I was happy to have the opportunity to outline three key priorities the City of Winnipeg would like to see addressed in the province’s 2018 budget. These priorities included rehabilitating our regional roads like Portage Avenue and Pembina Highway, investing in public transit, and committing to a long-term predictable infrastructure program. Continue reading Planning for the future

State of the City: Winnipeg Transit is on the Move

by His Worship Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg

Welcome back to another month of SmartBiz, Winnipeg! Last month I talked about tourism in our city, and this month I’d like to talk about rapid transit – something that will help support Winnipeg’s tourism, as well as benefit our residents tremendously as we grow towards one million people strong.

At the beginning of June, Winnipeg hosted many different Mayors from cities, big and small, from across Canada at the Big City Mayors Caucus meeting and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting and trade show.

It was interesting to speak with Mayors visiting from cities with one million people or more. In their cities, rapid transit is already well established and an important part of their transportation infrastructure. Cities like Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto all have some form of rapid transit, and some have more than just one.

For me, it is clear Winnipeg requires a rapid transit system, and the time to build that system for the future is now, before we reach one million people.

We need to make strategic investments in infrastructure based on future demands, not the demands of today. This is certainly not a new or novel strategy. All infrastructure investments we make need to meet current demands but also prepare us for future pressures arising from a growing city.

I believe Winnipeg needs to be part of the conversations other big cities are having, and that we need to keep our city moving forward. We simply cannot continue with previous City Councils’ track records of delaying decision making and forcing difficult decisions onto subsequent Councils.

Several years ago, City Council decided on bus rapid transit as the optimal rapid transit system for Winnipeg. In June, Council had a difficult decision to make with respect to land acquisition, and I expect there will be other difficult decisions to be made in this regard. However, I continue to believe in moving forward with a bus rapid transit system. But, like any project, I don’t believe in it at any and all cost. We need to monitor its progress closely.

This is why I was very encouraged to learn about significant cost savings identified for the second phase of the Southwest Rapid Transitway. Cost savings of $120 million have been identified for this project, and it is currently on-track and on-time with construction scheduled to start later this year.

It is unfortunate that some councillors want to move us backward and revisit the debate over what type of rapid transit system is best for Winnipeg. Some have even recommended the City cancel bus rapid transit in favour of a light rail system at anywhere from 2.5 to 50 times the cost of bus rapid transit. I don’t believe that is a cost or a delay the City can endure at this time, and do not feel we should be throwing away all of the money already invested in years of planning and engineering work. Through careful planning, however, investments being made today in bus rapid transit infrastructure can be converted to light rail in the future if required.

The second phase of bus rapid transit represents one of the largest capital projects in the City’s history. For this project, we have secured $365 million dollars from our provincial and federal partners. Now is not the time to walk away from $365 million in federal and provincial commitments, and to walk away from a project we need to build today to make our city better tomorrow.

I also do not want to go back to the days of Council fighting over what rapid transit system they want. I certainly appreciate for many councillors and many Winnipeggers, bus rapid transit continues to be a controversial issue. But I do not want to move our city backwards. I want to continue moving us forward and to build our city for the future.

As we get set to begin construction on the second phase of rapid transit, we need to begin examining the next best route. The City of Winnipeg’s Transportation Plan identifies the eastern corridor as the next priority for rapid transit, and work is currently underway to examine and develop the conceptual design as well as the broad implementation strategy for the next rapid transit route that would link Transcona to the downtown.

I believe Winnipeg’s future is bright. And, together, we can build a city we can all be proud of. A modern and efficient rapid transit system plays an integral role in supporting a city that is growing to one million people strong.

Brian Bowman’s vision for 2016

by Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg

Hi Winnipeg!

I’m thrilled to be contributing a monthly column to Smart Biz Magazine. This is a great way for me to connect with Winnipeggers, and to fill you in on what’s been happening at City Hall. As you may remember, openness, honesty and transparency were among my key campaign commitments, and I’m delighted at this opportunity to further engage with readers from across Winnipeg.
Continue reading Brian Bowman’s vision for 2016

What ever happened to the night shift?

It’s a case of the tail wagging the dog in Winnipeg where the contractors call the shots and not the citizens or their elected representatives. It’s time to change this!

• • •

Bold Ideas - Dorothy Dobbie
Bold Ideas –
Dorothy Dobbie

Here we are – it’s summer again and our town is a leafy green paradise, unless, that is, you happen to be driving down Portage Avenue, Ness Avenue, Corydon Avenue, McGillivray Boulevard and countless other streets that are being ripped up right now for repairs.
Now don’t get me wrong: I applaud the energy going into fixing our streets and repairing our curbs and (hopefully) our boulevards. But why can’t we make this happen faster?
I put this question to a former city councillor, who patiently explained that working at night caused the phones to ring off the hook with complaints about the noise – and no doubt that’s true, but surely not on regional streets where all the businesses are closed? Why can’t these critical thoroughfares be put on a special speedup schedule where contractors would work three shifts to get the job done?
Another excuse I have heard is that it’s dark and that this is a safety issue. Nonsense. We can light things up so that they are as bright as daylight. We are the electricity capital of Canada, aren’t we?
One other excuse (incomprehensible to me) is that the local contractors have just so much machinery and people and that they are doing all they can. What? This excuse reminds me of a comment from a visitor from Soviet Russia back in the day. He expressed amazement over the rapidity with which a local building was going up. “It’s not like in Russia,” he said, “where you get paid as much for laying down as you do for standing up, so nothing ever gets finished!”
I guess here you get paid the same for working during the day as you would for losing sleep so why work at night? (I seem to remember, though, that there was an hourly premium attached to night shifts in most industries.)
This past February, the city of Toronto voted to allow around the clock construction on some major thoroughfares, and work on “major roads” can be carried on between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Local roads have a 14-hour window from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can work around the clock in many other Canadian and American cities.

Bottom line

Every day that the streets are tied up means loss of business for local merchants, not to mention hours of lost time for other businesses whose employees are out on the roads on legitimate appointments. It also means extreme inconvenience for all drivers.
The city of Winnipeg used to work shifts when the work was actually done by our own employees. So, why can’t contractors be given this as a condition of contract? I think it’s time we overrode these self-serving objections and changed the current policy.
Yet it seems that here in our town the heavy construction industry calls the shots – they do not particularly want to work nights and are the originators of all the excuses. Chris Lorenc, executive director for the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association, was quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press as saying, “It’s just silliness to think we can work 24/7.” He was talking about noise complaints, but in fact, the city removes snow around the clock and residents seem to understand.
Well, the citizens of this city disagree with you, Chris. It is not “silliness” to want to get from point A to point B in a timely fashion. It is not “silliness” to expect that our tax dollars should be spent in a way that provides the most convenience to us. It is not “silliness” to expect that city council is calling the shots and not the contractors we pay to do the work for us.
I have a lot of faith in our new mayor and city council, and I know they have their hands full trying to set the city back on its feet. Road construction and the arrogance of the heavy construction association is just one more example of a problem they need to tackle.

Let’s go ahead with the overhaul of Pantages for use by the WSO

By Dorothy Dobbie (photo by Herb Neufeld)

One hundred years ago, on Feb.9, 1914, Winnipeg celebrated the opening of the grand new Pantages Playhouse Theatre, home to vaudeville acts of the greatest renown, including Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Houdini and even Felix, the Mind Reading Duck. It saw the debut of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in 1940. The Manitoba Theatre Centre got its start here.
Music has always been part of the theatre’s history and greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson and Dizzy Gillespie have all played in the hall. It has also hosted music stars such as Anne Murray, Elvis Costello, Duran Duran and The Guess Who.
Today, Pantages Theatre stands sadly forlorn, not sure what era it belongs to, thanks to an inappropriate, stark Tyndall stone addition in the early nineties that looks like a wart on the graceful early 20th-century architecture of the original building. In spite of this and its generally rundown condition, the theatre is still a vibrant, useful part of our community, hosting many a nervous child at dance recitals and providing a venue for smaller travelling shows.
There is a way, however, to bring it back to life in a manner that will benefit the community even more.
About five years ago, a plan was hatched to turn Pantages into an administrative home for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO). It made sense for the WSO, which was then huddled away in the basement of the Centennial Concert Hall in rooms with ceilings so low in some parts that tall men had to duck. Had anyone complained to the City, it is doubtful that the quarters would have passed building code standards.
Today, the WSO is on the 16th floor of the Richardson building, thanks to the generosity of the Richardson family, but it is not a permanent home or solution.
Pantages had, since the mid-nineties, been run by a group of performing arts organizations called the PAC, the Performing Arts Consortium, while ownership has been held by the City.
The City, frankly, just wanted to get rid of what it considered a headache. It was costing everyone money. The PAC board was tired and wanted out, too. Meanwhile, the WSO was still looking for an administrative home. Several proposals were made to the Concert Hall which were less than lukewarm. Other options were examined. None worked.
Then WSO Executive Director Trudy Schroeder had a brain wave. What if the offices in the theatre could provide a home for the WSO. She went to see Curt Vossen, President of Richardson International, to get a measure of his support, and his imagination was immediately ignited. He could see the possibilities.
That is when the deal was struck. The WSO would take over management of the theatre on behalf of the City, which would pick up any shortfalls. A newly constituted board of the PAC was created that, it was envisioned, would ultimately assume ownership of the theatre and remain de facto owner until renovations and operational difficulties had been overcome.
The WSO would continue as resident manager and ultimately take over ownership. This would hold the WSO safe from liability, while restoring what can still be a gem in the City’s theatre scene.
Some funds were chipped in by CentreVenture Corp. and the Richardson Foundation to have a business plan and some conceptual architectural drawings done. In this, major renovations were proposed to bring the theatre up to standards that would make it a viable entity and create appropriate quarters for the WSO administration. Note that I say administration.
It was not envisioned that this would become the Symphony’s performance home. Pantages simply does not have enough seats to make this a viable option, since the WSO fills the 2,300-seat Concert Hall with over 104,000 attendees a year. Pantages can accommodate about 1,100, and there is great demand for a theatre of around 900 to 1,000 seats in the city.
But to make the theatre a suitable venue for a lot of travelling shows, the proscenium must be enlarged; Pantages was built to accommodate vaudeville acts, not to accommodate the kinds of travelling acts that book space today. This, and the fact that the seats themselves have to be replaced to fit the larger bottoms of today’s audience (the current seating was salvaged from a cinema 40 years ago), would reduce the hall to somewhere between 800 and 900 seats.
This is not to say that the WSO can never use the venue; the venerable old theatre could be a wonderful place for the WSO to augment its offerings, providing a venue for smaller ensembles or even chamber music.
The business plan also envisioned opportunities for some commercial enterprises beyond booking shows and community events. Running the concessions, a permanent gift shop for the Women’s Committee, a catering venue and a possible cafe, rentable conference and meeting space, studio space for music lessons and – most excitingly and potentially most profitably – a sound stage for use by recording groups were all part of the plan.
This is an incredible opportunity to take what was a sow’s ear and make it into a silk purse. Other cities have led the way, turning much less viable old theatres into go-to places for citizens and tourists. The WSO and its supporters on the PAC envisioned this as a glorious renovation that would restore the lovely interior plaster work, remake the hall, spiff up the foyer, and even turn the balcony back into the exclusive place for the haute monde that it was in its heyday.
The plan included a funding program that looked for one-third participation from the province, the Feds, and the private sector. The Feds have previously said they were on side, and the private sector has already pledged $2 million to get the ball rolling – all it needs is a boost from the province to pursue the project.