A Vision for the Future of The Exchange District

The Exchange District BIZ is leading a planning process in partnership with the City of Winnipeg to set a trajectory for the area's future.

It’s Winnipeg’s original downtown, a National Historic Site, and has become one of the City’s most beloved tourist destinations in recent years. A hub for artists, hyper-local retail, and an impressive array of some of Winnipeg’s best dining, the Exchange District is also becoming increasingly desirable as an urban residential neighbourhood.

Its current status as a dynamic hub of activity in the City’s centre can be credited to a small group of business owners, historians, and planners in the mid 1970’s who saw its potential, despite plans to demolish it wholesale to make room for freeways, superstructures and an amusement park. Developing a vision that first saw the creation of the park we now know as Old Market Square on the former site of Winnipeg Fire Hall #1, the area saw an impressive period of rejuvenation and investment in tandem with the Core Area Initiative in the early to mid 80’s. This is also when it got the name the Exchange District.

Old Market Square in the early 80’s

A second major round of investment and rejuvenation was kicked off in the late 90’s and early 2000’s following the development of the Exchange District Strategic Action Plan, and its adoption into the City’s official downtown planning document, Centreplan. The principles of that plan were further articulated and drove the creation of Waterfront Drive, spurring unprecedented development on the East side of the Exchange District and solidifying the area’s transformation from abandoned warehouse district to the area we know today.

Once again, we find the area at a turning point. In absence of a current vision for the area, the Exchange District faces the risk of seemingly arbitrary infrastructure decisions and unfocussed development. In recent years, controversial changes have prompted many to ask: where is the vision for the Exchange District?

Over the past year, the Exchange District BIZ has been working in partnership with the City of Winnipeg to answer that question, looking at all of the area’s potential, having frank discussions about the obstacles it faces, and studying solutions that can guide decision-making in the coming years.

On Monday, February 1, 2021, the Exchange District BIZ is launching the public portion of the consultation process for this project, inviting Winnipeggers who live, work and play in the Exchange District to weigh in on the future of Winnipeg’s historic core.

The public consultation kicks off with the launch of a series of essays intended to spark a conversation envisioning the area’s future. Written by five Winnipeggers with diverse connections to the community (Little Brown Jug founder Kevin Selch, musician Anthony Sannie, writer Shelley Cook, long-time resident Deborah Zanke, and former Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray), imagining what the Exchange District might be like in 30 years, each describes a vision for the potential of this unique neighbourhood and the possible futures we can look forward to if that potential is unleashed.

Starting the following week, February 8, we’re asking the public to participate in a series of four surveys about the Exchange District on the themes of Community, Character, Connectivity and Resilience. The essays and surveys will be published on our blog and shared through social media as well as on the project’s dedicated landing page, which you can access here. That page also includes further details about the project.

Roundtable discussions with Exchange District businesses and residents are also taking place this month. The results of this consultation process will inform the final output of the project, which aims to create a cohesive vision and plan for the Exchange District that will guide and inform future planning for the area.