Winnipeg Canoe Club redevelopment

Way back in 1913, a rapidly expanding Winnipeg pushed the Winnipeg Canoe Club golf course out of its previous home into the middle of a planned residential development just across the Red River. Here it stayed, providing generations of golfers with a space to socialize and knock some balls around. You can still sense the abrupt nature of the golf course relocation today, with streets and back alleys butting up against the property.

credit: winnipeg.ca

The golf course location may have stayed the same since then, but much else has changed. Ownership groups have come and gone as the golf course struggled to make a profit, and a major redesign was required when Dunkirk Drive split the course in two. Not the least of the changes has been a demographic shift away from golf-loving Boomers and Gen-Xers to the less enthusiastic Millennials. Golf courses everywhere have suffered — private and public alike. Winnipeg’s city-owned courses are no exception.

The long run of the Canoe Club in its current form is likely to come to an end in April of 2019 when the current lease expires. The dwindling number of visitors to city golf courses makes it difficult to justify the on-going cost of running the course, and certainly not the investment needed to upgrade the rustic Canoe Club links to a reasonable standard — estimated at $775,000 five years ago, and likely more now. The City of Winnipeg and Brian Mayes, the local Councillor, have recognized this reality (sort of) and have begun a consultation process around the next phase of the Canoe Club’s life.

One of the first parts of this public engagement was a survey on the City of Winnipeg’s web site to solicit input. The survey is a good idea, but it was clear right from the start that the City had no intention of doing anything with this land other than recreation of some form or another.

Snippet of news release

Recreation is important. In fact, I would go so far as to say that golf is important. I think most of the city’s golf courses should stay golf courses. However this is a special case because

  1. “The current Winnipeg golf market is oversaturated with golf courses, whereby supply exceeds demand” – cbc
  2. The Canoe Club is arguably the worst of the cities golf courses, given that it has a major thoroughfare running right through the middle of it, among other things.
  3. There are other golf options nearby, including Windsor Park Golf Course (2.6 km) and Wildewood Golf Course (3.6 km).
  4. The pro shop is an old metal shed and $775,000 in upgrades are needed to the course.

Despite this, it is proving extraordinarily hard for the city to unhitch its wagon from the golf cart. In the survey, three distinct concepts were presented, and all three continued to feature golf as a primary use. One was a slightly more cramped version of today’s already cramped course, with tennis courts tucked away in the corner. The other two included versions of “executive” par 3 courses. The executive par 3 courses, it should be noted, would compete against the privately owned Fantasy Lakes just east of the city.

This is only the beginning of my problems with this engagement process. My biggest issue is the narrow focus on recreation in general. You might argue that the space has been devoted to recreation for the past 100 years, so it should continue to have a recreational purpose. Aside from the fact that that argument contains a logical fallacy, a person could just as easily say that it’s been a business for the past 100 years, so why should it become a park? You cannot step foot on the Canoe Club without paying money. The actual recreational benefit of the golf course to St.Vital or the city in general is really quite small, and thus little is being lost by repurposing it in some other way.

Of course it doesn’t have to be one or the other. The Canoe Club is really two distinct areas — east of Dunkirk and west of Dunkirk. One area could be developed and one could be used for a World Class tennis facility or whatnot. Public green space could even be (in fact — must be, per City regulation) incorporated into a residential development. Every bit of functional public greenspace that is included in a new development is more than we have now.

There are two reasons why I am hung up on this idea of at least considering residential development. First: it just makes sense. I have this rational circuitry in my brain that nags me and keeps me awake unless I scratch it by writing a blog post or something. So I’ll tell you why it makes sense:

  1. There is already plenty of green space nearby. Churchill Drive Park, one of the longest stretches of riverside greenspace in the city, is RIGHT ACROSS THE BRIDGE. You could hit a driver and a 6-iron from the first tee of the Canoe Club and be on Churchill Drive Park. AND St.Vital Park, one of the largest parks in the city, is close by as well.
  2. It is an ideal, walkable, location for infill.
    – It is centrally located.
    – It is walking distance to a K-8 school and a Collegiate
    – It is walking distance to a YMCA
    – It is walking distance to St Vital Library
    – It is walking distance to South Osborne, including a Safeway and the Park Theatre, restaurants, etc.
    – It is right on major bus routes to downtown, the University and St Vital Centre.
  3. It would be a snap to develop, given that streets and other infrastructure already run right up to the fence line of the golf course
  4. It would help to slow the pace of urban sprawl by providing an attractive infill alternative

Second: The opportunity cost of not developing it is great. I created a mock-up of a potential development to get an idea of what would fit on that land and how much property tax revenue it would generate:

Even just developing the smaller east side could, in this example, create urban housing for over 300 families and generate over half a million dollars in annual municipal property tax revenue for the City.

Whatever idea the City cooks up for the property after all of its consultations and open houses, you need to ask “is that worth paying $500,000 for every year, year after year, forever?”

The ideal solution is probably a mix of the two: some residential (likely on the east side which is more suited to residential and less to recreation) and some recreational. Failure to consider this option would be doing a disservice to the city, to taxpayers, and to people looking for a place to call home that doesn’t involve a 40 minute daily commute from the Perimeter.

If all of the options are weighed and assessed properly, it could be that part of this property will come full circle and return to the residential use that city planners envisioned long ago.

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