May 13, 2014 6:12 pm

New funding aimed at filling up and cleaning up downtown businesses

WINNIPEG – Empty buildings and dingy storefronts make Winnipeg’s downtown and Exchange District unattractive to many shoppers and investors, but two new initiatives are looking to change that.

The downtown development agency CentreVenture is spending $65,000 to subsidize the rent for temporary “pop-up”stores in the Exchange and Sports, Hospital and Entertainment District (SHED). Street vendors, local artisans and other entrepreneurs will be spared steep business startup costs and rent vacant retail and office space in the city centre.

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“That’s one of the main objectives … is to get these empty storefronts populated,” said CentreVenture’s Ross McGowan.

“It’s to revitalize the Exchange District. I can’t tell you how many times I walked by this building sitting empty and we wanted some life in here,” says Patti Henderson, whose Exchange Umporium is the first of the new “pop-up” stores to appear, in a vacant space in the Silpit Building at Arthur Street and McDermot Avenue. It’s a local group of sellers, makers, artists and designers.

Officials also announced a new storefront improvement plan, allowing existing business owners to spruce up their facades. The city, province and Centre Venture will match up to $15,000 spent on exterior renovations to improve the overall look of the streets.

“New signs, new windows, new doors. It’s intended as a complimentary program — you put up 50 per cent, we’ll put up 50 per cent. We’ll help you get through the design phase,” McGowan said.

And with more shopping options, there is renewed hope for Winnipeg’s troubled downtown.

“As the area fills up, with more residences and people and shoppers, some of these vacant buildings will be developed and more people will move in,” says John Giavedoni, who lives in the Exchange.

Funding for the pop-up stores and facade improvements is set to end next year, but could continue if the initiatives are a success.

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