Winnipeg in midst of a building boom

Manitoba's first IKEA centre is set to open Nov. 28

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September 23, 2012

WINNIPEG, MB, Sep 23, 2012/ Troy Media/ – It’s been a tough season for Manitoba sports fans, with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL dumpster and no NHL to look forward to.

Sure, the Winnipeg Goldeyes won this year’s American Association championship, but the triumph over the Wichita Wingnuts was hard to toast, with a straight face.

So what is worth celebrating in the province’s capital these days?

Mega-buildings. They’re popping up everywhere.

The city is in the midst of a go-big-or-go-home building boom the likes of which haven’t been seen in decades. Three giant new landmarks in particular are the talk of the town.

In the southwest, the much-delayed new $190-million Bomber stadium is rising by the University of Manitoba, looking like a giant Roman coliseum. In the heart of downtown, the $351-million Canadian Museum for Human Rights received its last pane of glass this week, a soaring new icon 24 metres higher than the Golden Boy (which graces the Manitoba Legislative grounds and is arguably Manitoba’s best known symbol). It is Canada’s first national museum located outside of Ottawa.

And out on Route 90 in the city’s southeast end – be still our shopping hearts – the province’s first IKEA centre is set to open Nov. 28.

It’s not as architecturally stunning as the human rights museum, or as sweeping as the new stadium’s arch or entrance, but the Swedish home-decor titan boasts a footprint of almost 400,000 square feet, and is part of a massive new 1.5 million-square-foot shopping complex.

It’s the first IKEA to open in Canada in 30 years.

For shoppers who have been forced to rely on catalogues or a long drive to Calgary, IKEA’s arrival is on par with the return of the Winnipeg Jets; a sign that the city is in the big leagues after all.

But what is the main topic of discussion when it comes to these shiny new behemoths?

Traffic jams.

Just wait till that IKEA is finished, we mutter darkly. Traffic on that strip is bumper-to-bumper already.

How will all those museum-goers funnel to and from The Forks?

And just how will 33,000 football fans get in and out of the U of M campus on game days?

In the late 1990s, when building cranes were almost extinct in Winnipeg, this whole traffic issue would have been considered a bit of a joke.

But the city has sprawled since then, particularly in the south where IKEA was smart enough to plunk itself, and now – for the first time in Winnipeg’s history – rapid transit has become a necessity.

The city, of course, has been debating it for years, and finally put the pedal to the metal last April, unveiling a slick $138-million strip. But the shine rubbed quickly off that initiative as Winnipeggers learned that a) it doesn’t go very far, at 3.6 kilometres; and b) it doesn’t go anywhere, unless you consider a seven-minute whisk by the Dairy Maid worthwhile.

The system needs to extend to the U of M and the new Investors Group Field. It needs to take people en masse downtown. And – while you won’t see anyone lugging Allen wrenches and IKEA couches on the bus – it must start absorbing some of the daily commuter pressure on Route 90.

‘3.6 kilometres doesn’t cut it,’ one expert bluntly told the Winnipeg Free Press last spring.

‘I do believe it’s a good solution in the absence of a subway or a rail system. But it has to get you where you need to go,’ said author Taras Grescoe.

The city has always planned to extend the transit way. In fact, 2010 plans for the new Bomber stadium included a rapid transit stop for fans.

But plans have always been derailed by a lack of vision and funds – plus a genuine lack of dire need. It takes a lot to push Winnipeggers out of their cars. With all the big new attractions going up, now is the time to start building them an alternative that makes sense.

According to the city’s latest master plan, the transit corridor to the U of M/stadium site just might be completed by 2016.

By that time, surely, we’ll all be headed to the Grey Cup.

Troy Media Eye on Manitoba columnist Margo Goodhand is the former editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. She is currently working on a history of the women’s shelter movement in Canada.

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