City sends out RFP to revitalize Portage and Main, deal with crumbling barriers

Click to play video: 'City to look at revitalizing Portage and Main' City to look at revitalizing Portage and Main
The City of Winnipeg has put out a request for proposal to look at making both above and below ground changes to Winnipeg's iconic Portage and Main intersection. Councillor Brian Mayes discusses what the path forward could look like. – Aug 12, 2021

The City of Winnipeg has sent out a Request For Proposal to see what developers can do with the crumbling barriers and membrane at Portage and Main.

But this doesn’t mean the barriers will come down, said city Coun. Brian Mayes.

“The vote of the referendum, about reopening entirely to pedestrians, that was a pretty clear no vote back in 2018,” said Mayes, referring to a plebiscite that accompanied the mayoral election that year.

Click to play video: 'The Portage and Main question' The Portage and Main question
The Portage and Main question – Oct 25, 2018

“But doing something below ground is technically necessary and above ground, doing something to animate the intersection, bring some more aesthetic appeal to it.”

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The biggest issue with the intersection right now is the waterproof membrane that keeps rainwater from flooding into the underground concourse, the city said in the RFP.

The membrane, which is more than 40 years old, is disintegrating and flooding during rainstorms is a now a commonplace occurrence.

So, any developer wanting to take a crack at redesigning the streetscape around city’s most iconic intersection would have to take those repairs into account.

They would also have to deal with the concrete barriers in a creative way, said Mayes. The RFP suggests a possibility of removable barriers that could be lifted or taken away to open the street for special events.

Read more: Facelift anticipated for Portage and Main, despite plebiscite

“I think that’s worth looking at. What will cost, we don’t know. So that’ll be an important part of the discussion too. But rather than just leaving the concrete there, I think we need to look at some options.”

The RFP also wants an “urban design vision for Portage and Main that provides design direction and unification of the for corners.”

The design should also reflect “our present relationship with Indigenous Peoples and their longstanding relationship to the land where Winnipeg now resides.”

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MMF optimistic

Meanwhile, the newest tenants at Portage and Main are happy to see the city making the iconic corner a fiscal priority in the years ahead.

The Manitoba Metis Federation is hoping to open its heritage centre in the former BMO building on the Southwest corner by 2023.

President David Chartrand says the city has already reached out to them about revitalizing the intersection – both above and below ground.

“I think it should be a friendly place, people sit down and have a nice coffee,” Chartrand said. “Like when you go to Paris or different countries around the world, you can go into their main settings and watch their traffic and watch their people, but have foot traffic moving.”

He also says the MMF has acquired property at the corner of Portage and Fort with plans to build a boutique hotel

The barriers at Portage and Main have been a contentious issue in the city since it was built and opened more than 40 years ago.

It was closed to walking traffic in the late ’70s. Then, as much as now, citizens were divided over whether or not pedestrians have a place at the corner of Portage and Main.

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Click to play video: 'Intruder floods underground concourse' Intruder floods underground concourse
Intruder floods underground concourse – Aug 29, 2018
What started as a business proposal ultimately defined how Winnipeggers have interacted over the city’s most iconic intersection for two generations.

Read more: Portage and Main could reopen by fall 2019

Passions ran high, the debate was long, and in the end, city council voted 24-19 to close it to pedestrians and force people underground.

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In 2018, the idea of opening the intersection resurfaced and Mayor Brian Bowman made it a part of his re-election campaign. However, he also promised to abide by a plebiscite attached to the vote about whether the barriers should come down.

Winnipeggers voted to keep it closed.

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