In 2020, the airport made it clear that they did not want any housing in the CF Polo Park area to protect its 24-hour operations. They didn’t want the complaints to stop the lucrative cargo trade coming in every 15 minutes after midnight.

This is the price to pay for having an airport close to downtown. At 7KM’s, its one of the closest airports to downtown in Canada. The late night advantage is where cargo can land, be sorted and on the road and headed to market faster faster than it can be in places like Minneapolis and Chicago. And one of the advantages of the airport being close to the city is that the they are able to supply nearly 20,000 jobs to the region.

The airport has been extremely aggressive in protecting the 24 hour status by nixing anything in terms of housing or other developments… until now. Other levels of government had to step up to scale that back. Polo Park and its surrounding areas are where airport restrictions were stringent. Taller residential buildings existed there before the zoning acts came into place. It has stymied most building over a few floors. While aviation flight paths should not have to navigate towers, the restrictions have been centered more on possible noise complaints.

Almost every mall in North America is re-considering their surface parking lots. Over the years they have added restaurants, movie theaters and stand alone retail. The closure of several department stores though as left malls scrambling as the answer doesn’t seem to be adding more stores. The truth is that no one can take up 300,000 square feet up like Sears once did. In the case of CF Polo Park, they converted some space to offices and the ground floor to an EQ3 furniture store and cafe.

Make no mistake, although CF Polo Park is having stiff competition from Seasons of Tuxedo, it still ranks as the top mall in Manitoba. It’s owned by Canada’s premiere mall developer and manager Cadillac-Fairview. Millions have been spent every decade to ensure the mall and surrounding area attract the most desired stores, restaurants and attractions.

Notwithstanding the problems of major retailers failing, security and remaining relevant to a young generation, malls across North America are spending billions to evolve in the coming decades. Even Mall of America has had to change with large stores closing and security. For stores closing, hotels have emerged as anchors. And inside, there are 100 security guards and up to 16 uniformed police officers. After the latest shooting death there, metal detectors are being tested, and so it goes with malls, arenas and now libraries. Weapons have no place in them.

As far as CF Polo Park goes, the security concerns are the same as Mall of America. Keep weapons out, stop theft and strong arm robbery and provide a secure, save space to to shop, go to a movie, have a meal or anything else. On that score, there are have been incidents this year which they will have to address as the mall begins its most bold expansion ever: a $1 billion dollar mostly residential building program on surface lots surrounding the mall.

You heard that right. It is $1 billion. The first focus will be on housing on the former Arena and Stadium site north of CF Polo Park. There are supporters and detractors of the project. First things first though, the land which was formerly owned by the city has been sold. Road improvements have been made on the St. James and Empress side the last few years as well as St. Matthews right off to Route 90. The area is serviced and aside from converted Target and PF Chang’s, the land is much like how it looked a decade ago. It’s private land that was supposed to be an outlet mall. Seasons of Tuxedo got there first.

So let’s go over what the detractors say:

  • Too close to the airport. It will hurt the 24 hour status of the airport
  • Too noisy and busy
  • Who wants to live by a mall?
  • Too much crime in the area
  • Housing will be poor quality housing
  • Too much traffic in the area
  • Focus should be downtown
  • Who wants anything but a detached home?
  • Where would I park?
  • Taxpayer getting fleeced
  • Can’t be supported by city infrastructure of water, sewer and drainage

And here is what supporters say:

  • A use of existing of city infrastructure attached to existing water and sewer, roads and utilities
  • Is far enough away from the airport that it won’t interfere with flight paths or result in noise complaints that shut down the 24 hour status of the facility
  • Is a reasonable use of some of the land that has sat idle for 10 plus years
  • Is private land owned and managed by Cadillac-Fairview and Shindico so should not be banned from building anything but commercial and retail
  • Any building as featured in the renderings are low-rise residential. No tower appears to be above 20 floors
  • The 84 acres of usable space has no equivalent downtown for space all in one area for development
  • Will convert surface mall parking into added decks on the north side by the movie theatre and on the east side of Polo Park. Two decks each for the parkade according to interviews
  • Will bring around 4000 residential units to Winnipeg at a time when overall rental units of any kind of place is hard to get and rising in expense
  • Brings $1.1 billion of spending to Winnipeg over several years and hundreds if not thousand of jobs

The airport seems to have come along into believing CF Polo Park’s initiative is balanced. That should be good enough for those worried about the status of Winnipeg Richardson International Airport’s 24-hour operations. There does not appear to be any 30 floor buildings planned for the area.

CF Polo Park/Shindico are looking to relax the rules on 1.4 car spaces for every residential unit built. There is a strong case for this with a bus terminal already on site and capacity for more bus service winding through new stops in the area. The strong uptick of Peg City Co-Op means the car rental as you need them business is a strong contender for spaces in this development. Why have two cars when you can have one and a special rental for for a weekend getaway or when you need a different vehicle for certain tasks.

The ten year time frame of construction means the new electric cars and trucks will be the norm and chargers will be everywhere, possibly every residential parking lot as the development proceeds forward. The days of parking your car on city streets overnight will be over. This is the reality of electric vehicles. Even in the new Seasons development there are cars parked on the street near one of the apartments. It has cars parked free 24 hours a day. This seems highly unlikely here or any street ten years from now if a car is electric. The city won’t be putting chargers on every street in front of every home. If you park overnight uncharged, you will have to find a place to charge. And in cold temperatures like Winnipeg, it is best to leave plugged in over night. Below 20% and charging in cold weather can damage the cell.

Electric vehicles will change everything about our residential areas in the future. Imagine having one electric charger in a house for a family with four cars. And most chargers in homes are in garages which many people use a storage. To say that everything changes in the next ten years is an understatement. And for those chuckling that their gas car won’t have this problem, think again. There will be fewer and therefore busier gas stations. Costco may lay out there parking lot with high speed chargers and make their gas station just a kiosk… if they keep any at all. So significant the changes will be. Storing your car free on the streets and getting a fill nearby in less than a few minutes might be harder… and more expensive.

The CMHC report on rental housing was pretty grim. While other places fared worse, Winnipeg has major issues even with numerous apartments rentals nearing completion. Only 3% fall in the affordable category. Some residents fall into a category of not being able to afford any home on the market presently for a variety of reasons. Some might be in so need of help for addictions, mental health and poverty that even free housing might not be accepted. So deep the problem has become. Moreover, housing built for those on the streets is so expensive that it would seem like a Tuxedo house given the price.

CF Polo Park’s 4000 units of housing won’t likely create affordable options unless CMHC and the province look do something similar to some other programs in Manitoba. However, the need is so great that if there is not more building soon that vacancies could drop to near zero and rents will soar even higher. Canada’s immigration is rising to meet a demographic gap that is already seeing many jobs go unfilled as older workers retire from the workforce. Canada it is not the only county facing this. China and Japan are already seeing rapidly aging populations and in the case of Japan, parts of the country are being abandoned as people move to cities and overall population decline.

The difference between Japan, China and Canada is that this country has an accelerated immigration program to bring people to the country. Manitoba has been one of the most successful provinces with the provincial nominee program. It has matched skill needs of the community with immigrants willing to come work those jobs. They have not taken jobs away from Manitobans. These are jobs that have been there for the taking for some time. Even in communities like Thompson of 13,000 people, they are soon to be without veterinarian services. They need four given the size of the city. Vets can earn a good living and where are the people to do the job.

The government of Canada is expecting 500,000 a year for the next five years and beyond. In Manitoba that is tens of thousands of people arriving each year. The pace of house and apartment building must quicken. And with it zoning, inspections and official approvals. Polo Park has 84 acres to create housing. Debate has already lasted nearly three years. It is time to start now as the need is here now.

This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations