July 21, 2021, Treaty No. 1 territory, Winnipeg, MB – A new report highlights just how hard COVID-19 has hit downtown Winnipeg.
The report, State of Downtown: The impact of the pandemic to date, is the result of research and data collected by a group of local organizations that came together to find solutions to aid in the economic and social recovery of downtown Winnipeg. The partners include Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, Exchange District BIZ, West End BIZ, Tourism Winnipeg, and CentreVenture Development Corporation, with guidance and support from the City of Winnipeg. The partners are working collaboratively to engage key stakeholders and the public to develop an actionable downtown recovery strategy to be released this fall.
“We watched our downtown streets empty and the density and vibrancy we’re used to still hasn’t returned,” says Kate Fenske, CEO of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. “This report confirms the struggles business owners have been experiencing and now we have the data that shows us how devastating the revenue and job losses really are.”
Downtown storefront businesses (including restaurants and personal services) lost an average of $2 million a week in gross revenue since the pandemic began, an estimated $139 million in total revenue loss over a 15-month period. It’s not just businesses that were severely impacted, key industries downtown that drive our province’s economy will be slow to recover.
“Tourism, arts, entertainment and hospitality came to a grinding halt and that meant the dollars stopped coming,” says Natalie Thiesen, Vice President, Tourism, Economic Development Winnipeg. “The cancellation of planned in-person conferences that Tourism Winnipeg generated resulted in the loss of at least 56,000 people coming downtown and more than $59 million in direct expenditures in our city.”
The pandemic has also exacerbated long-standing challenges in the community and made social issues more visible. The closure of safe public spaces like food courts and libraries and lack of access to public washrooms, sanitization and water has increased the strain on community organizations trying to meet the needs of vulnerable individuals downtown.
“The pandemic has negatively impacted Winnipeg, including our downtown, and we need to work together to bring people back to the heart of our city,” says Mayor Brian Bowman. “This report brings key downtown partners together and clearly identifies the challenges ahead. As the provincial government continues with plans to reopen, the downtown community and the City of Winnipeg will need strong government partners to help in the recovery effort.”
Downtown Winnipeg is less than one per cent of the city’s total land area but comprises approximately 17 per cent of the commercial property tax base and about 14 per cent of our city’s business tax base.
“The revenue generated downtown helps support services and amenities throughout Winnipeg,” says Angela Mathieson, President of CentreVenture Development Corporation. “The whole city could be affected if specific attention isn’t placed on downtown recovery.”
While the downtown recovery strategy will be released in the fall, Winnipeggers don’t have to wait to help. The partners are inviting Winnipeggers to have input in the future of downtown by taking the downtown recovery survey. The report includes immediate steps individuals, all levels of government, community organizations and the private sector can take now. Folks can also visit and support the downtown, Exchange District and Central Park neighbourhoods.
Pamela Hardman, Director of Marketing, Engagement and Communications
Downtown Winnipeg BIZ