The True North Arena: Downtown Revitalization and Decision-Making in Winnipeg
In 2001, Winnipeg’s City Council approved the demolition of the 96 year-old Eaton’s building to make way for a new sports arena in the heart of the city’s downtown. In spite of a growing body of research showing that sports facilities do not act as generators of economic activity in failing downtown centres, the project was touted as a catalyst for downtown revitalization. A group of citizens organized to stop the arena deal, and instead put forth an alternate, mixed-use proposal for the Eaton’s site known as Eaton Square. This paper examines both the Eaton Square and True North arena concepts in light of the City of Winnipeg’s own long-term policy goals, as well as findings in the scholarly literature, in order to evaluate which of these proposals would have been more likely to have a beneficial and rejuvenating effect on the downtown. The paper concludes that Winnipeg had little to gain by building the arena downtown, and in light of this finding, asks why City Council would have chosen to make what appears to be the wrong decision. Two trends in the city’s political history offer a clue: Historically, Winnipeg decision-makers have been dominated by a corporate elite, and citizen involvement in the political processes concerning controversial development projects (such as the True North Arena) has often been suppressed.