Downtown Winnipeg project to include health-care expansion

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WINNIPEG – A private developer announced plans Friday to turn a struggling shopping center in downtown Winnipeg into a large complex of health-care services, affordable housing and public green spaces, with a small number of retail stores.

True North Real Estate Development, the real estate arm of the company that owns the National Hockey League Winnipeg Jets, unveiled its designs as it continues to work to buy the Portage Place mall. The mall is currently owned by the Vancouver-based Peterson Group, while the surrounding area including a parkade has different owners.

“I will, again, not make the claim that this undertaking represents by itself the cure-all for our current circumstances,” said Mark Chipman, chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment. He stood in the mall’s atrium, near an empty storefront and below a large clock that was not keeping time

“I will, however, offer that it can be a new catalyst to bring more people downtown to work and live … and at the same time create some new resources for those who have already called downtown.”

True North’s plan is expected to cost more than $500 million and take three years. It still has hurdles to clear, including finalizing the purchase.

Much of the work is slated to go toward building two towers at either end of the property. On the west end, a 16-storey tower with housing for students and families is envisaged. One the east end, the company plans a 15-storey tower with a wide variety of health-care services — primary care, an extended-hours walk-in clinic, addictions treatment and more.

“This is a game-changing initiative that provides incredible opportunities for Manitoba at a critical time,” Premier Heather Stefanson said.

The Manitoba government, through some of its health agencies, has agreed to become a major tenant in the east tower. Long-term leases are the only provincial contribution so far to the project.

In between the towers, True North plans to have a grocery store, cultural and entertainment programming, offices for community groups and public green spaces.

Portage Place opened in the 1980s and was touted as a way to revitalize downtown. As the years went by, more storefronts became vacant. Like other downtowns, Winnipeg’s has also seen a rise in the effects of homelessness, addiction and fear of violence.

The new plan, with easily accessible health-care and other community services, is aimed at addressing some of those issues.

“So many cities across this country and continent are facing these very challenges,” Chipman said.

“I firmly believe we can join the list of those who reclaimed the heart and health of their city, and in the process reclaim the health and well-being of all those who call this city their home.”

Starlight Investments, an Ontario-based firm, reached a tentative deal in 2019 to buy the mall, but the proposal never came to fruition after requests for government support.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2023.

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