Monday, May 31, 2010

There's a Place Called Downtown

The Downtown BIZ is an important and prominent local organization that does great work in the ongoing efforts to promote and improve Winnipeg's perenially troubled downtown core. That's good! It is also a duplicitous little creature, by nature, that blurts out misdirection and falsehoods even when the truth would be a more productive approach. That's bad.

Yes, this is going to be a very long and involved blog post, full of civic discourse and interesting pictures and a couple of outright lies. So before we begin, I think it's only proper that we establish some background to make sure everyone's up to speed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Portage Place: Coming Alive! (But Not Really)

I've been working away on a couple of things since Monday. This is one of them, but not the one I'd expected to finish first. Such is life!

Monday, as you'll recall, was the day that the Downtown BIZ decided to start posturing; the organization had been cleaning the place up since at least the previous Friday, if that caption on the second picture of the Free Press article is accurate, so they felt really confident in challenging downtown visitors to try and find any vandalism. Executive Director Stefano Grande -- who I really never intend to single out, but who keeps blurting out things he shouldn't -- would later add the claim that "You can walk around downtown for an hour and not see graffiti", to give you some idea of how committed they were to this.

So I popped out after working downtown that day to see if I might happen to come across any graffiti, and... well, I've been weeding photographs ever since, but despite my efforts there's still probably going to be at least a hundred pictures in the eventual album. The blog post about my exploration that evening is obviously still forthcoming, but the estimate I just gave you kind of foreshadows how that walk went.

That's what we've got coming up in the near future, if it sounds like something you might be interested in. But, hey, in the meantime -- let me tell you what I've got for you right now!

You see, going out and about downtown that day also gave me the opportunity to grab the last bits of footage I needed for an entirely different activity, one that I've had in mind since I found this online a while back.

ha ha ha oh wow

A little bit exaggeratory? Well, maybe a little. A little bit over-the-top? Yes, perhaps. (It was the '80s, after all.) But you have to realize, this was legitimately what people expected of Portage Place when it was built; the downtown shopping centre was a major source of excitement for the city, even hailed as the potential "salvation of downtown Winnipeg" when it opened in September of 1987.

(Holy crow, that video is a wayback machine just by itself. The 24Hours News Team! Mayor Bill Norrie! MP Lloyd Axworthy! Urban Affairs Minister Gary Doer! Man, what a trip.)

An estimated 250,000 (!) visitors flocked to the new downtown landmark that day, and the excitement generated by this major revitalization project ushered in a new era of prosperity and prominence for the city's downtown core. I mean, there's no possible way you just lose that kind of momentum without--


Okay, never mind, I guess. Everything fell apart for Portage Place within the first nine months (!!), with blame laid in a few different areas -- including low customer traffic along the skywalks, the absence of nearby businesses open during the evenings, and a clientele base who would just hang around for hours without ever actually spending money.

You know what they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I know I may, occasionally, give the impression that I'm underwhelmed with business advocacy groups like the Downtown BIZ, but really I do try not to be too hard on them. I mean, Jesus, look what they inherited. This is what they get to work with.

Anyway, I just told you all of that to tell you this: straits have been dire for Portage Place since as far back as June of 1988, which means that I'm twenty-two years late to this joke. But sometimes a juxtaposition is just so poignant that you can't help but explore it, and my rigorous commitment to accuracy -- plus the surprise discovery that nobody else has done this yet (I mean, really?) -- finally baited me into updating the information on record.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you: the Winnipeg Portage Place commercial, 2010 Edition.

Kevin McDougald of The View From Seven recently suggested that the reduction or destruction of Portage Place would be a significant contribution towards improving the downtown, but admitted that the idea is considered "think(ing) the unthinkable". All's I'm saying is: maybe we could think about it a little. See what you make of it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Stanley Cup Conference Finals Begin Today (Plus: Love Me, Love My Friendly Spirited Heart of the People Over One Great Energy Glorious and Free)

Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but--

Really, guys? Really?

Yes, the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue early this afternoon, but I'd like to take a moment first to pursue some good ol'-fashioned self-promotion.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

They Shoot Coyotes, Don't They?

So a small city near a large city in a foreign country had a council meeting the other day. Maybe you heard about it.

You'll note the live blog that accompanied that article; no fewer than five thousand and seven hundred people were on the Free Press website that evening for up-to-the-minute updates on what was going down. Which is probably why five thousand and six hundred of them were complaining that they couldn't get video working on the official City of Glendale stream, but come on -- if you were the website administrator for a city of 250,000, how much budget would you expect to need for bandwidth?

So full credit to the Free Press, on this one; I've been known to make less than complimentary observations about their product in the past, but they did a stand-up job on this story and good on 'em. Plus I just want to take this time to draw attention to the greatest quote about the whole thing, attributed to one of the 250 Coyotes fans who showed up to support saving the team. (Not a typo; two hundred and fifty. And the punchline is that they still couldn't fill the building.)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Hockey Rock, Winnipeg Style! (But Not Really), or: Outlook Not So Good

[Retroactively added to the Slurpees and Murder Record Club.]

Five months to go! The race for the Mayoralty of Winnipeg appears to be set, and there aren't a lot of players to memorize this year. Russ Wyatt and Lillian Thomas, who were polling at a combined nine per cent of the vote a month ago, both decided not to serve as honourary Pollock siblings this year -- so the two remaining choices for the Mayor of Winnipeg are a broken Magic 8-Ball that only coughs up 'ask again later' responses and a broken Magic 8-Ball that flips its answer to whatever you want to see and then flips again as soon as you turn your back.

Neither of the two candidates has laid out any real vision -- in Katz's case, we've been waiting six years -- and neither of the two candidates would get along well with our Provincial Government at all. (It's actually strangely entertaining to consider how ideologically dissimilar the Manitoba NDP is from its Federal namesake.) So aside from the city's nigh-insurmountable incumbent bias, the contest will really just come down to five months of shameless pandering, outright lies, and heelish, slanderous, meanspirited potshots.

Yes, it's going to get ugly and it's going to get personal, so it should be the blissfully dirty kind of campaign that takes a toll on the psyche of everybody involved and makes for decently entertaining politics. And when an increasingly desperate candidate completely loses his or her mind, there's always the nuclear option: a "Bring Back the Jets" crusade, which has never ever backfired on a prospective leader in the slightest.

So just in case the subject comes up, I want you all to be prepared -- and I have just the thing!