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Blog by Ursula Thiessen

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Downtown Winnipeg is Sold Out!

  Western Canadian cities, once defined by their suburban, low rise construction and single-family homes, are beginning to embrace their inner Manhattans: loft apartments and condos are in high demand across western Canada.


Many western Canadian cities once had little in the way of a town core. Unlike eastern cities, which developed with well-defined business districts near tightly packed residential neighborhoods, western towns came of age during the automobile era and tend to sprawl. Winnipeg was no exception, even our downtown  is seen by many as too large in surface area to serve as a foot-traveled neighbourhood. It is one reason why our Exchange District is so popular.  It has a great urban feel, without spanning over too many blocks. 


Just a few years ago, a place like downtown Calgary, for example, had never been a place to go and certainly not to live. Five years ago Elizabeth Garlicki, a local Winnipeg artist was invited into Calgary’s downtown to show her work in one of the up and coming galleries.  “At that time” Elizabeth notes, “Calgary was dark and pedestrian dead after 8:00 PM.  I visited Calgary just a few months ago and I was amazed at the transformation.”  Much of the transformation  is thanks to a large influx of high-rise condos and in turn, an increase in demand for services and attractions. Residential living has also been changing in downtown Winnipeg.  Many professionals are recognizing the appeal of downtown living, "That's something that would never have happened six or seven years ago," says Bill Thiessen , also known as the Urban Realtor.  Downtowns have become chic again and urban centres like Calgary, and Vancouver are being developed and revered rather than shunned and torn down. Yet despite the demanding trends in other cities, Winnipeg is at a standstill for new projects for its downtown.


Bill recognizes that as in many Canadian cities, condominiums are becoming the new housing supply. "The trend is transforming cities throughout Canada. According to Thiessen. “Winnipeg began to turned around beginning in early 2003, when redevelopment geared to residential housing took off. Several new projects were started and they have brought with them a new generation of urbanites, and vitality to our downtown.”


“Density brings energy to downtowns”, says Thiessen. “It revitalizes neighborhoods and causes cafes, clubs, galleries, and boutiques to spring up to serve the increased populations. More people make downtowns safer, more vibrant, and fun.”


But is it just a matter of wanting to be where the action is that has caused downtowns to flourish? No in other cities, but yes in Winnipeg, according to Thiessen.


He says, "The majority of people will always prefer a single-family home, Winnipeg is no different. Condo popularity in other cities is more tied to price. But because of the limited supply of downtown condos, and the beauty of our Exchange District, Winnipeg’s downtown pricing is no bargain." Many buyers, especially the young, have been priced out of the downtown condo market. In Bill’s opinion, only about 25 to 50 percent of first time buyers looking for downtown condos can actually afford the median condo found there, based on their incomes.


All those prices are still on the upswing, according to the latest figures from the Canadian Real Estate Association.  The West leads in regions both in median prices and in appreciation. Despite the concern for the U.S. real estate market and the noticeable slowdown in Alberta and Saskatchewan prices, there is good news for Winnipeg condo owners as found in a report by Derek Holt and Amy Goldbloom at RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) Economics. Stated in their report, “Housing market conditions from Manitoba eastward are not a cause for concern”


Thiessen states that Winnipeg’s downtown market is still red hot, but supplies are short.   New suburban condo projects have skimmed off some of The City's excess downtown demand.  Additionally, prices have risen steeply in some formerly inexpensive areas. In Winnipeg’s North End, for instance, housing price have risen 23 percent to 27 percent for the last few years. As a result, the demand for condos under the 250,000.00 range continues to grow.


According to Thiessen, "We are seeing customers getting frustrated with the lack of residential product in Winnipeg’s downtown.  We need more inventory to keep up with demand as demonstrated over the last three months," he says. "There's a frenzy when a property comes on the market, particularly in the 100,000-250,000 dollar range."


Bill hopes that Winnipeg developers will continue to recognize the importance of our downtown transformation. The Census Bureau reports that the city’s downtown population increased by 5.5 percent during the period from April 1, 2003 through July 31, 2007.  This is thanks to projects like The Strand, Lofts on Bannatyne, Fairchild Lofts and several other new projects. The demand continues to grow. But the fact is downtown is virtually sold out with the exception of a handful of new condos and the odd resell.


Many newcomers to Winnipeg will want to settle in downtown without question.  They cannot see themselves living anywhere other than in a downtown setting.  Other local Winnipeggers will be making the switch from suburb to city living, wanting to join the downtown lifestyle. “Today”, said Thiessen, "there is very little to show this growing market.  We need developers to recognize this gap and start building."