Downtown Winnipeg staggered by pandemic, faces big challenges in recovering, says report


Tourism, arts, entertainment and hospitality ground to a halt when COVID-19 barged into Winnipeg in March 2020, and though the pandemic's grip is now easing, its impact has left the city's downtown core teetering and facing a long recovery, says a new report.

Downtown storefront businesses, including restaurants and personal services, have lost an average of $2 million a week in gross revenue since the pandemic began — an estimated $139 million in total revenue loss over a 15-month period.

Those are the findings in the report State of Downtown: The impact of the pandemic to date, released Wednesday by a group of local organizations: Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, Exchange District BIZ, West End BIZ, Tourism Winnipeg, and CentreVenture Development Corporation.

When the pandemic shut down much of the economy and sent downtown workers home the dollars stopped coming, said Kate Fenske, CEO of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

"The revenue loss was really quite staggering when we did discover what the numbers were," she told CBC Manitoba's Information Radio host Marcy Markusa.

"In the beginning, it was just like a ghost town and last summer we started to see traffic pick up. We thought we might be out of the woods and then the third wave hit in the fall.

"This report confirms the struggles business owners have been experiencing and now we have the data that shows us how devastating the revenue and job losses really are."

Some 2,200 events were held downtown in 2019, resulting in 6.8 million visits. That number was cut drastically as over 75 per cent of events were cancelled in 2020.

The cancellation and postponement of more than 100 national and international business conferences and large-scale events resulted in a loss of at least 56,000 people going downtown, as well as 86,000 room nights at hotels and more than $59 million in expected spending, the report states.

Transit ridership in downtown has dropped more than 60 per cent and on-street paid parking has fallen by 50 per cent.

Only 20 per cent of the approximately 70,000 people who work in downtown full time are currently in those offices and businesses.

That doesn't include the 30,000-plus students and staff at the University of Winnipeg, Red River College and Robertson College who shifted to remote learning and are not expected back on the campuses in fall, Fenske said.

"Students are really what give downtown such a vibrancy, you know. We're definitely really missing it right now," she said.