The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Centreventure's cinematic solution to spiff up downtown Winnipeg

CentreVenture's latest plan for revitalizing downtown Winnipeg is breathtaking.

Not breathtaking like when a stunningly beautiful woman walks into the room.

But breathtaking like when your boat overturns in Lake Winnipeg and you're going down for the third time.

The plan as outlined to city council Thursday consists of spending all the money in CentreVenture's bank account over the next three years and heading for the exit doors before the public starts asking questions.

Left behind to distract the mob, if all goes well, will be three new parkades, some spruced up parks and maybe some flashing neon lights along Portage Avenue. It ain't the bright lights of New York's Broadway, but it'll do in a pinch.

And, boy, is CentreVenture in a pinch.

Its clear that CentreVenture has openly abandoned its designated role in revitalizing downtown Winnipeg.

"The CentreVenture mandate is to lead and encourage business investment and development downtown, and enhance the use of heritage buildings and land in the downtown area." says Destination Winnipeg.

"The City shall promote downtown development to stimulate revitalization . . . by implementing a visionary downtown plan (CentrePlan) through an action-oriented development corporation (CentreVenture) to provide clear direction, coordination, planning and implementation, and strong leadership for the downtown. . ."
says the city's own strategic white paper, Plan Winnipeg 2020 Vision.

Yet there's no mention of interesting projects on the horizon in the three-year plan pitched to City Hall.

Nothing about the rock and roll museum/nightclub proposal for the decrepit Metropolitan Theatre that CentreVenture put on ice last July.

Nothing about the water-park proposal floated by the Winnipeg Convention Centre way back in 2004 when two other water-parks plans had been announced.

Nothing about the worst kept secret in the city, a proposed 38 storey condo tower for 100 Main Street which would be the tallest building in Winnipeg.

We guess that even a hint of what developers have in mind would only serve to excite the rabble needlessly.

Hell, we were excited by the Aspers' proposal to build a new media tower just off Portage and Main (complete with Broadway-style lights and electronic billboards that Centreventure wants to see) only to have our hopes dashed when they scrapped the plan and sent the message that real businessmen invest in Toronto, not Winnipeg.CentreVenture sure got the message.

And if they needed any reminder, they just had to read the Winnipeg Free Press story (Jan. 15, p. B4) on downtown office space."Vacancy rate downtown one of highest in two decades" read the sub-head."The biggest problem is that when tenants move out, there is no one waiting to replace them," wrote reporter Murray McNeill.

So any announcement of new office space available in a refurbished CentreVenture building only means a possible reshuffling of addresses, and not the growth that revitalizes a city centre.

The agency has, instead, turned to the movies for a solution. And we can even pinpoint the year.

1989.

CentreVenture has realized that the patient shows no vital signs. Put away the paddles. But if they can dress and manipulate the corpse for awhile, they may convince everyone they're still players.

Does Weekend at Bernie's sound familiar?
No?

Then how about Field of Dreams.

Build it and they will come.
Build parkades, and they will come downtown.
Build world-class parks, and they will come.
Put up some flashy lights, and they will come.

Or at least it will look like something's happening downtown, and that's the next best thing.

To be fair, maybe the parks thing isn't completely a CentreVenture idea. In October, newly elected mayor Sam Katz "challenged" CentreVenture "to find new innovative ways of developing more world class destination parks downtown." Well, you don't say no to the mayor.

Katz had in mind the success of the skateboard park at the Forks which was built in partnership with the Burns Family Foundation. We're pretty sure he wasn't thinking about the shoplifting epidemic at the Forks that followed the park's opening.

But the concept of "world class destination parks" has diminished in CentreVenture's plan into a new stage for Old Market Square, a skating oval on Argyle Street, and a dog park off Pioneer Avenue which come with a hint of a doggie spa and hotel. World class, we presume.

Oh, and our own Broadway, (now renamed Broadway Promenade by Centreventure), needs a walking path.

Note to CentreVenture: Broadway already has two walking paths. One is known as the sidewalk on the north side and other is called the sidewalk on the south side. Don't knock yourselves out overthinking this one.

But what about the parkades? Goodness knows, everyone is always complaining about parking downtown.

Yep. They are. And the parkades will be built. (Winnipeg currently runs three parkades-- Winnipeg Square Parkade, Millennium Library Parkade, and Civic Centre Parkade--and owns 8 surface parking lots downtown run by the Winnipeg Parking Authority.)

The driving force for more parking structures is the high-end condo developments that were built in the CentureVenture development zone and which served as the symbol of the agency's success in its early years.

The developers figure if there was more assured parking, then maybe, just maybe, they would build more condos. And Centreventure feels this is a risk worth taking. What's the downside? More parking?

The true downside is what CentreVenture has designated The Dead Zones.

What are The Dead Zones, you ask? Bottom line--Portage Avenue downtown and Main Street from Higgins to Portage.

Pretty much the area CentreVenture was created in 1999 to revitalize.


Now they've put a nifty new name to the area and buried it in a ton of verbiage on how the agency plans to woo developers.

It's good to see they haven't lost their sense of humour.We've heard this joke before, only the punchline was different. But it still cracks us up.Rewind to the year 2000.

The location--Higgins and Main.
The producer---The Winnipeg Development Agreement, which was sort of like CentreVenture's richer step-sister.


The opening of Thunderbird House also represents a vital step forward for the development of North Main Street, and is a testimony to the importance of strong partnerships between the community and government.

Who said that?

Councillor Dan Vandal.


The opening of Thunderbird House also represents a vital step forward for the development of North Main Street, and is a testimony to the importance of strong partnerships between the community and government.

Who said that?

Lloyd Axworthy, the then-federal minister responsible for the Winnipeg Development Agreement.


Six years later, that "revitalization" is in shambles.

Parts of the building are falling off. Its tens of thousands of dollars in hock to the city for back taxes. A colony of sniffers terrorizes bus riders across the street. The management has decided that the prostitutes and gang members brought to the building for social programs are not such a great attraction for tourists, who have been staying away by the tens of thousands. Today, Dan Vandal is back at City Hall.


And Lloyd Axworthy is back in the downtown revitalization business thanks to oodles of University of Winnipeg cash and the expertise of Mr. Crocus Fund, himself, Sherman Kreiner.

Lifeguard....over here....we're goin' down.

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