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Blog by Ursula Thiessen

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Is it too soon for groceries Downtown?

Much discussion in Winnipeg Free Press regarding Zellers leaving and the lack of groceries downtown. Much of that discussions always comes back to the density of full time downtown residents. And that discussion talks about the "glacier" pacing of that development.
But, you don't have to be an urban planner, or engineer, or developer, or civil servant to understand that produce goes bad quickly. Or that grocery stores always arrive after someone who will to eat their product shows up, but not before.
What would be the use of enticing (inducing) a grocery store only to see it die a cruel death due to lack of sustainable sales. It would set downtown back, and leave a black mark on the future of attracting a grocery store when it might actually work.
CentreVenture talks about 20,000 people living downtown, I think that's a stretch of about 5000, but either, downtown is not ready for what big cities have, stores like Whole Foods are a huge hit in many downtowns, so stop "pushing" the string and start pulling people downtown.
How do you flip the big switch? Create a real tipping factor in favour of downtown. Stop giving subsidies to developers (they seem lost in the shuffle anyway) and provide a tax policy that makes a significant difference in the costs to live downtown. Provide a down payment that is replayed thru reduced tax. Make it much easier to buy downtown than anywhere else in Winnipeg.
The over all appeal of downtown is increasing. From my selling in the downtown for the past dozen years I have never seen demand so high and supply so low. The Jets, the Waterfront, the dozens of new restaurants, and yes the trickle of new residents have more and more people thinking downtown. But are they taking their cheques out to buy condos? Yes, but we need thousands more, not hundreds. And we need them within 5 years not 25 (back to that glacier pace).
In 1983 the Federal Government provided a program which provided $3000.00 as down payment to first time buyers. It single handedly turned a dead real estate market across Canada into a strong and thriving market. Adjusting for inflation a program that allowed first time buyers buying in the downtown say $10,000 for a down payment (replayed by reduced taxes for say 10 years) would be that watershed moment of creating tremendous attention and add residents by the thousand over the next 5 years.
Want fresh produce and groceries downtown? Take 2 steps back, stop talking to people who know exactly when to build grocery stores because once you give them the people they give you the food. No inducement needed.