I heard that the Friends of Upper Fort Garry were about to share their long-awaited plans for the Upper Fort Garry site, and I sent my Senior Upper Fort Garry correspondent down to have a look. Here is his report:
I missed whatever speaches may have been made, so I pushed my way through the crowd of business people and media people to have a look at the displays which were all clustered at the far end of the tent. The first display that I came upon was a model of the interpretive centre:
Kind of like a flat version of the WAG or a big green slice of pizza. I overheard the Friend that was manning this post say to a lady that the intersection of Main and Assiniboine is very dangerous, and may be closed off. "So the plan is to close off Assiniboine?" I ask. "No, no that's not in the plan right now" he assures me.
I push on over to the next display, which is a model of the entire site enclosed in glass. Lo and behold, it shows Assiniboine closed off... sort of:
"What's happening with Assiniboine?" I ask the Friend who's in charge of this display, "It looks like it just kind of disappears." "Yes, it gets closed off and the traffic will be routed up Fort Street" he tells me, "but that won't happen for several years" he says, obviously sensitive to the fact that some people drive cars and may not like seeing a street closed off.
There was an impenetrable wall of people in front of the remaining displays, and I was pressed for time, so I was not able to get a good look at all of the features and details, but I can give you my initial impressions of the plan, which is not yet posted on their web site. (You can see the original plans though):
My first reaction was: "What? Is this it? There's nothing here." The footprint of the fort is basically a park with no structures. Upon closer inspection I see that the spots where buildings would have been have been turned into gardens of some kind. I was actually slightly relieved that they weren't going to try to recreate the fort. We don't need another fort in Winnipeg, and especially a 1/3 half-assed mock-up of a fort. The lack of buildings also means fewer hiding spots for drug dealers and gang bangers. It's just that ... jeeze ... there's nothing there!
There's not quite nothing: there is a large clear glass wall in the shape of a building onto which holographic images will be projected. (I ain't cleaning that thing.) The only other structures on the block appear to be the interpretive centre, a tall sign of some kind on the NE corner, and of course the Manitoba Club building.
I think there are two ways to look at this project: the first slightly cynical view is that what the Friends have done here is build themselves a giant back yard. A personal park that they have agreed to share with the public, extending right from the Friends' lair at the Manitoba Club down to the river. Sitting in their perch up in the Club, they will see almost nothing but greenery. Even the interpretive center will be barely visible because it is a low, sloping building covered in foliage.
A more sympathetic person will look at this as an enhancement to downtown. What is now concrete and rubble is about to become green space. There were no additional surface parking lots in the plan that I could see, which is a good thing.
Whichever way you look at it, you ought to keep in mind the cost: the lost vitality and safety that would have come from having more people living downtown, the property taxes that we had to forgo, the direct contributions by the various governments, and the indirect contributions in the form of donations from crown corporations and tax-payer funded organizations. All of these costs were forced on us by a small handful of privileged people. There was no consultation about doing this. Just a PR campaign to get the government on their side. Two years later: "here you go ... this is what you're getting."