Volunteers from Vote Open, the group lobbying to remove the barriers at Winnipeg’s Portage and Main, are hosting Open Fest at the iconic intersection on Saturday as part of their latest effort to encourage the public to vote in favour of removing the barriers in next week’s plebiscite.
Richardson Plaza is hosting the main stage with concerts, speakers, coffee and donuts, while a selection of local beer will be available across the street.
Festivalgoers like Jenny and Marc Foidart still have to walk underground in order to get between locations.
“If you’ve tried to go to the other stage today, you’ll see how ridiculous it is to access the other side of the intersection,” Jenny said.
The couple has a 10-month-old girl, which they said makes navigating the underground pathway much more difficult.
Marc said downtown Winnipeg is not as vibrant as it could be because of the barriers. He believes opening the intersection will not impact downtown traffic as he said some people have suggested.
“We can’t keep on designing the city based on traffic,” said Marc. “We have to look at the vibrancy of downtown.”
Open Fest co-organizer Andres Swanson hopes the free event will start a conversation.
“This festival is about connecting people face-to-face,” he said. “I’m not into dividing people. I don’t like putting people into categories, I think people are able to make up their own minds and I think it takes a long time to have a discussion to come to conclusions.”
Swanson said he believes the best way for the city to make money is to invest in downtown. Currently, Swanson said, many residents are choosing to not live in the core.
“If you try and get through the concourse right now in a wheelchair, it takes 14 and a half minutes to get to the other side because of all the elevators,” he said. “Think about what that’s like for a young parent with a kid, and now think about what that does to someone who is trying to decide to live downtown or not.”
On Wednesday, residents will be able to weigh in by answering a yes-or-no question on their ballots about whether to reopen Portage and Main.
The question is non-binding.