Downtown Winnipeg is an issue that comes up in every municipal election, and concerns over safety, business, pedestrians, motorists, and parking remain very relevant to the 2022 slate of mayoral candidates.
Glen Murray, who previously served as the city’s mayor from 1998–2004, says big steps toward improving downtown by dealing with the ‘sea’ of parking lots reducing walkability in the area.
Murray told 680 CJOB he wants to redesign downtown streets so they’re more accessible for walkers, but and still convenient for drivers.
“Better for motorists but more particularly, better for walkers, so that the advantage of all the stuff being so close together is not being undermined by the fact that there’s a lot of ugly seas of parking lots and bad spaces,” he said.
“Sometimes perceptively dangerous spaces between the clusters of really cool things.”
Murray said he would much rather see downtown parking lots used for restaurants, art, and other social and cultural projects.
“We have a lot of stuff, we’ve just got to better connect it so it’s more walkable, and we have a lot of parking lots and those are huge development opportunities,” he said.
Candidate Kevin Klein says the only way to improve downtown is to address the crime problem.
Klein, who is leaving his seat as councillor for the Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood ward to run for mayor, told 680 CJOB tackling crime will see more business return to the area.
“We see boarded-up buildings, empty stores all along Portage, all along Main,” he said. “We’ll get those busy once we deal with the crime.”
Hand-in-hand with crime concerns, Klein said, action also needs to be taken on homelessness in Winnipeg’s downtown.
“In my platform, as I’ve talked about since the very first day since I was running for mayor, we have to deal with the crime issue downtown, and we have to take immediate action on the homelessness crisis.”
Candidate Shaun Loney is also calling for changes to surface parking lots to make downtown better in the future, including charging daily fees for lot use.
“A 25 per cent per day fee on surface parking spaces, I think, would be a very important way to send a signal to government and others that own these surface parking lots that we’ve got to do something more interesting with them, including residential,” he said.
Loney told 680 CJOB that won’t work, however, unless downtown homelessness and public safety are addressed first.
“This is not a money issue. We’re spending far more money responding to folks who are homeless then we would to resolve the problem in the first place,” he said. “What we need is new tools to free up the resources to go to where things are being helpful.”
Loney said he also believes adding more transit, or at least innovating in the way transit is used, would make downtown living more attractive.
Candidate Scott Gillingham, currently wrapping up his term as councillor for St. James, says he believes the city needs to push re-working unused office space into new residential units.
Gillingham told 680 CJOB that, if elected, he’d provide funding to the Downtown Community Safety Partnership to help area residents feel safer.
Gillingham’s campaign is also calling for the funding of small neighbourhood action teams to make the area more attractive to both visitors and residents.
“They would know how to do everything from repairing potholes and fixing curbs to cleaning up the sidewalks, repairing sidewalks as well, and they would descend upon the community, descend upon the downtown, and clean it, fix it,” he said. “When the city looks better, we feel better about ourselves.”
Gillingham is also calling for patio spaces to be expanded in an effort to draw in visitors and make the area more vibrant.
Mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk says a thriving downtown is based on successful businesses.
Motkaluk told 680 CJOB that if elected she would improve city services that impact businesses the most.
“(That includes) picking up the garbage, making sure the streetlights work, but also not cutting up their roads for months at a time and putting them out of business… or taking away all of the parking to accommodate a few cyclists,” she said.
“These are all the things that are business killers, and business killers kill downtowns.”
Motkaluk said also believes workers returning to downtown offices, many of which have been empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would make an impact on downtown safety.
“It is time. Everyone’s gone back to work, right? If I were mayor of Winnipeg, every City of Winnipeg employee would show up at their job every day… or we’ll find someone who will.”