The head of the Exchange District BIZ says it’s time to put forward a long-term vision for the area in the heart of downtown Winnipeg, something residents, developers, and business owners have been asking for.
“We’ve had a number of really good periods of growth in the Exchange District since the 1970s,” David Pensato, Exchange District BIZ executive director told 680 CJOB.
“And we kind of came to the end of the plan that’s been in place for the last 20 years.”
Without naming specifics, Pensato says recent decisions surrounding infrastructure and other developments have been “controversial” and seem “unfocused.”
“The common theme we were hearing from — not only our members but from residents and the broader community — is that it seems like the city has lost a sense of focus and direction for the area,” Pensato says.
The BIZ has been connecting with various stakeholders and doing background research over the past year to develop a 30-year plan, Pensato says, which is being done in collaboration with the city.
Business owners in the Exchange have previously decried the “piecemeal” development of the area, going as far as to call for a moratorium on development until the city came up with a better plan for things like bike lanes, parking, and loading zones.
“We love the bike lanes, we are pro active transportation,” Shawarma Khan restaurant owner Obby Khan said at the time.
“What we are not pro for is the design, implementation and rollout without any real consultation of business and how the bike lanes were executed. What was the plan? What was the vision?”
Cre8ery Gallery and Studio owner, Jordan Miller, says she loves the Exchange’s atmosphere, pre-COVID that is, but agrees there needs to be plans to support businesses.
“More than the bike lanes, the cost of parking really affects my business. It’s probably the number one complaint that I have,” says Miller, who is heading into her 19th year as a gallery owner in the Exchange.
Miller says small business owners like herself would benefit greatly from any increases to traffic downtown.
“Not paying for parking would be hard on the city, I recognize that, but I think that is one of the major deterrents to downtown,” Miller says, adding First Fridays have been a tremendous help getting people in the door.
First Fridays is a monthly event where people can take part in an art talk followed by guided tours of local galleries and studios.
“They had a map and places to go, so that kind of idea, a presence of a map of all the shops in the area would probably help all of us,” Miller says.
“I realize the Exchange District BIZ has all of us listed on a website, but something people can carry with them would actually help with business.”
Strategic planning can be credited with much of the Exchange’s enduring success as a Winnipeg destination, according to Pensato, who says the previous action plan culminated with Waterfront Drive and the east Exchange.
“All of that sort of flowed from that visioning process and setting some strategies and priorities that the city adhered to, that the BIZ adhered to, and that people participated in,” Pensato says.
In the meantime, Miller says businesses like hers are struggling amid the pandemic and encourages people to take an afternoon to explore the area.