Proposed Portage Place Revamp Is About More than Real Estate

February 8, 2024 2 Minute

Paul Kornelsen

True North Real Estate Development’s proposed redevelopment of Winnipeg’s decaying Portage Place complex represents much more than a real estate investment, according to CBRE’s Paul Kornelsen.

“This deal, if it happens, will impact the fabric of this city and how the downtown is viewed and used,” says Kornelsen, CBRE Winnipeg’s Managing Director.

“Like many other North American cities we’re dealing with a lot of social issues here. As there’s been a migration of people and businesses out of downtown it has left more oxygen for problems to fester.

“Downtown Winnipeg is not massive but it has a lot of economic power,” Kornelsen adds. “So it’s super important that each link in the chain is strong.”

True North, a division of the group that owns the Winnipeg Jets NHL hockey team, has yet to purchase Portage Place, currently owned by Vancouver-based Peterson Group. True North is in the midst of performing due diligence on the property.

But its proposed redevelopment aims to create a “dynamic, purposeful and community-minded space to advance the critical needs of urban improvement downtown,” according to a project backgrounder.

True North also recently signed a multi-year agreement to work with the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (representing 34 First Nations in southern Manitoba) on the rebuilding of two properties: Portage Place mall, built in 1981, and a now-defunct six-storey Hudson’s Bay store – a combined footprint of 2 million sq. ft..

Paul Kornelsen in Portage Place
CBRE Winnipeg Managing Director Paul Kornelsen with Portage Place behind him. - Credit: Randi Rey

Breaking Up A Monolith

The vision calls for the breaking up of the monolithic Portage Place structure into four zones: health equity; public spaces and greenways; neighbourhood services, culture and arts; and housing and food equity.

Portage Place mall will be demolished and a residential tower installed on one side of the site and a medical tower on the other. Half the residential space is to be affordable housing. The middle section of the current mall would be converted into community centres, offices, and retail or food services.

The former Hudson’s Bay building, gifted to the Southern Chiefs’, will become a mixed-use property with affordable units for elders and university students. There will also be a museum, art gallery, health centre, restaurants, and memorial for residential school victims and survivors.

“It’s encouraging that we have a strong local company that has a sense of responsibility and reconciliation,” says Kornelsen.

Helping Downtown

If it comes to pass, the new development will be a far cry from Portage Place as it currently stands.

“It’s a massive property and the rate of return we’re getting from it right now is hurting downtown Winnipeg, not helping,” Kornelsen says.

“When you’re looking at what makes a healthy downtown and a healthy city, this is a big piece of that puzzle. They can’t afford to keep it the same and to make a mistake. So I appreciate the caution of True North to make sure everything is aligned.”

“It’s going to take a village to help this project be a success.” Kornelsen adds. “But it will all be worth it if we have a downtown that thrives for decades to come.”

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