Right in the centre- City of Winnipeg faces big choices


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

As I put words to paper this Sunday afternoon, I have been informed that the Winnipeg Jets are down in season ticket sales. One of the owners, Mark Chipman, says they have to get the sales back up again. I also hear the NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, is coming to town reportedly to encourage or scold the team for their lagging sales.

My first thought is that Gary Bettman should retire, as many people, myself included, find him to be a very annoying and often unrealistic man. Others will say that he has been instrumental in building the NHL to the brand it is today and that could be true too. Like most league commissioners, Bettman has way too many opinions, way too much power and he comes across as arrogant. 

It occurs to me that the Winnipeg Jets fans are very loyal. That said, the Jets tickets are very pricey according to just about everyone who buys tickets. It’s also reported that Jets tickets are cheaper than most other teams’ prices, but it is Manitoba after all. Winnipeg in particular, and Manitoba in general, can be very generous with charitable donations but also very tight with their money. All that said, Jets tickets seem very expensive and going to a game can take a big chunk out of your credit card. Hotdogs are $11 and other snacks and drinks are pricey too. Parking isn’t cheap.

There is a nasty aspect to going to Jets games, as one is likely to be met by vagrants who are high on drugs or liquor, or by panhandlers. Often vehicles are vandalized in smash and grab incidents. Some players don’t want to play in Winnipeg because it’s cold compared to some US cities and the players wives and girlfriends don’t feel safe making their way past the addicts and panhandlers to access the Canada Life Centre.

I have it on firsthand authority from a Neepawa area fan who turned down a free luxury suite ticket because they didn’t want to put up with many of the negative aspects that I have listed above.

Overall, the Jets have a very good team, a great arena, albeit financed heavily with tax dollars initially. The community involvement of the Jets players and True North Entertainment is very good. Cleaning up the area  around the arena isn’t the direct responsibility of the players or True North. That task rests with the City of Winnipeg and the province. To effectively “clean up” downtown Winnipeg will require a major shift of emphasis. It’s a great thing that Mayor Gillingham has facilitated the use of security staff on buses. That a bus driver or passengers have been subjected to violence is absolutely wrong. Hopefully, the new security staff will be able to make riding a bus safe. I used to use the buses way back in the late 60s and I don’t believe there was violence or obnoxious behaviour back then. Maybe I was oblivious to it, but I don’t remember ever experiencing dangerous behaviour.

My contention is if a person is drunk or drugged, they don’t belong out in the public. Drunk and disorderly used to be an offence that got you into jail for a spell. It still should be. Surely no good is being done for the individual and certainly endangering the public is unacceptable as well.

The City of Winnipeg reports they have about 1,200 homeless people. I think that is probably a low estimate, but I don’t know. Winnipeg has a lot of great things and more than half a million good people. What the city, the voters and the province of Manitoba needs to realize is that change is needed. The centre of Winnipeg is hollowed out and most developers and business people know that.

Housing is desperately needed and that may mean converting the upper vacant floors of commercial buildings to housing. Housing may cost many millions of dollars. Redevelopment of the Hudson Bay building and Portage Place hopefully will go forward. 

If downtown Winnipeg doesn’t improve, it won’t matter how cheap the Jets tickets and hotdogs are. People will not come.

I am the first to admit that my ideas may not be valid, but the evidence is pretty strong that some parts of the city’s downtown equation is not working. After health  care, the province needs to take strong leadership in cleaning up the dark parts of Winnipeg. Clean up and upgrade the derelict buildings, the vagrants, the housing situation, the addicts and yes, even the street surfaces.

The choices are there to be made, but is the courage and conviction high enough to make the right choices? It will need a lot of courage and a huge budget from private and public sources.