Place: The Winnipeg Convention Centre (Website)
Address: 375 York Avenue (Map)
Opened: January 5, 1975
Cost: $23 m
Size: Five storeys; 166,00 sq ft of meeting space; 550 car parkade.
After decades of decline, a downtown building boom was underway in the early 1970s. A dozen or so high rise buildings like Place Louis Riel, the Richardson Building, House of York and Chateau 100 were either under construction or recently completed.
Around North America, from San Diego to Calgary, the convention centre as a downtown redevelopment tool was all the rage and Winnipeg wanted in on the $6 billion convention market.
Winnipeg Centennial Souvenir Book 1972
The debate about whether we needed a convention centre was at times heated. Some, including Mayor Juba, considered such a facility to be a 'guaranteed money loser'. Joe Borowski, a member of the Schreyer cabinet, openly mused about resigning his position if the province cost-shared the project, (he didn't.)
Proponents argued that it was the spin-off benefits such as visitor spending and private developments near the centre that would be its true measure of success.
The site for the convention centre was passed as part of the 1970 Metro Winnipeg Downtown Development Plan which called for the demolition of many square blocks of homes, schools and parks.
After months of negotiating, in August 1971 the province and city agreed to a 50 / 50 split of the capital costs of the building, initially expected to be $15 million. When cost overruns and related capital projects were added in the total price tag became $23 million, of which the province covered $9 million. The two later agreed to cost share the operating losses of the centre for the first three years.
Immediately following the announcement, Lakeview Development had one of their own: they would redevelop the adjacent block with a five-tower project that included apartment buildings and a hotel. The construction was funded by private cash but the city did give them McFadyen Park which sat on a corner of the land for $1.
Circa April 1973 (Source)
The dedication took place on September 24 and the ground breaking ceremony on December 10, 1971. Officials at the December event included Convention Centre subcommittee Chairman Coun. Jack Willis, Coun. Bernie Wolfe for Metro Winnipeg, Ald. Joseph Cropo representing Mayor Steve Juba and Acting Public Works Minister Russell Doern representing the province.
Juba was conspicuous by his absence. When Cropo was asked what was up, he said "Your guess is as good as mine where he is.'' (Dec 10 1971, Winnipeg Free Press.)
In November 1972 a Convention Centre Board made up of city councilors and private citizens was established.
The Winnipeg Convention Centre opened on January 5th, 1975. A few days later general manager George McCabe and operations manager Klaus Fuerniss hosted a week-long open house.
The first event held at the Convention Centre was Celebrations 75, a touring concert series put on by duMaurier and co-hosted by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. The four days of concerts began with Rare Earth (with Rush !), The Irish Rovers, Henry Mancini and Marty Robbins.
The official opening ceremony was to take place on Monday, January 14 but due to a weekend blizzard it was pushed back to the Tuesday. Juba did take part in that ceremony, a key exchange with Premier Schreyer.
The first serious public discussion of an expansion to the Convention Centre came in 2000 during the debate over where to build a new arena. The idea of a joint arena / convention centre project was floated but the former Eaton's site won out.
In 2008, while the city was debating a 5% hotel room tax to fund an expansion, hotelier Leo Ledoshoski of the CanadInns hotel chain announced that he was willing to take over the facility from the city in exchange for the city not implementing the tariff. The proposal failed and the tax went ahead.
Later that year the Convention Centre announced its own $200 million expansion plan that included a hotel and new main exhibition hall. Over a period of a couple of years the plan was formalized and the three levels of government signed on, the province being the last in July 2011.
According to the 2008 expansion plan the new facility will be over 400,000 sq ft with 160,000 of that a column-free meeting and trade show space. A 250 room hotel is also included.
The project is expected to start in the fall of 2011 and completed by early 2013.
Winnipeg Convention Centre Winnipeg Building Index
Governments partner to expand the Winnipeg Convention Centre News release (June 25, 2012)
Governments ante up Free Press (June 2012)
Convention Centre just the beginning Free Press (Sept. 2011)
Centre upgrade quietly gets underway Free Press (July '11)
Convention Centre Unveils Expansion Plans (2008) CBC