Lindsay Somers, head of Osborne Village Biz. Photo taken on the second floor balcony at 99 Osborne Street (owned by Private Pension Partners)

It takes a village

Revitalizing one of the country’s coolest neighbourhoods

Lindsay Somers wants all hands on deck to bring Winnipeg’s most famous neighbourhood back to its not-so-long-ago glory.

“It takes a village,” says the executive director of the Osborne Village Business Improvement Zone (BIZ).

A decade ago, Osborne Village was named Canada’s greatest neighbourhood by the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP). It was feted for its strong urban character featuring a wide array of shops, restaurants, heritage buildings, its diverse population, gathering places and the performing arts.

Since then, though, the Village has seen a number of high-profile retailers close their doors, leaving empty storefronts scattered throughout the neighbourhood. Somers believes the inability to find a long-term solution for the old Basil’s location on the northwest corner of Osborne Street and Stradbrook Avenue has had a “huge impact” on people’s perceptions of the neighbourhood in recent years.

She also believes those perceptions are changing.

First, Somers is happy to report that Osborne Village businesses did “quite well” during the pandemic compared to their counterparts in other parts of town. Twenty businesses have hung up a shingle since March 2022 while eight others have closed.

“We’re in growth mode coming out of the pandemic,” she says.

“Because we’ve got 11,000 residents, we had more street traffic. Higher-pedestrian neighbourhoods generally have more commercial success.”

There’s vehicular traffic, too. Somers says 35,000 cars and trucks drive down Osborne Street every day and part of her job is to get them out of their vehicles and visiting the 150 businesses in just a 1.4 square-km area.

“I need to get all of those eyeballs seeing that Osborne Village is being cared for, loved and invested in. It’s an urban gem. It’s got the density, walkability and all of the businesses that anyone could need for their lifestyle,” she says.

“You can get a tattoo, go for lunch and see your dentist, all within a 10-minute walk.”

Perhaps most importantly, cranes will be returning to Osborne Village this summer on a number of different projects.

The highest profile will be on the site that used to be home to the Osborne Village Inn. The hotel and beer vendor have been demolished and in their place one six-storey building and two four-storey buildings will come out of the ground. The $60-million development will feature 208 rental units, which are scheduled for occupancy as early as the third quarter of next year, as well as some retail space. Collectively, it will be known as “The Zu.”

Private Pension Partners, the Winnipeg-based company spearheading the development, is walking the Osborne Village talk, having moved its offices to the area 18 months ago.

“Osborne Village fits with the growing popularity of a 15-minute city concept,” says Don White, PPP’s CEO. “People want to live within a 15-minute walk of everything they need, such as a grocery store, a pharmacy, a gym, liquor store, insurance broker and restaurants.”

New developments will also rise where Dutch Maid Ice Cream and Gags Unlimited used to be as well as the parking lot adjacent to the old Basil’s space.

“We always want to attract new and exciting businesses to Osborne Village. We are working with building owners to create a desirable business district destination,” Somers says.

One of them is Leopold’s Tavern, which recently opened up its fifth Winnipeg location in the space that used to be the Cornerstone Bar & Restaurant (and Papa George’s before that).

Kurtis Tokarchuk, the company’s general manager for Winnipeg, said it wants to cover the city’s hot spots and Osborne Village fits the bill.

“We’re excited to be part of the revitalization. We want to make sure we keep Canada’s greatest neighbourhood going,” he says.

“We want to grow with everything else going on there, like Carlos & Murphy’s and the Toad In The Hole’s new location. It’s such a great historical spot and we’re hoping to put our stamp on the area and grow with all of the other great businesses.”

Somers is spearheading a number of initiatives designed to drive people to the area and benefit local retailers.

There will be live music every Friday night, a community patio, walking tours and new murals have been commissioned. She also decided to cancel the Canada Day street festival, which attracted thousands of people and countless food trucks to the area but provided very little boost to Osborne Village retailers. It also left a mountain of garbage to be cleaned up.

“We want to make the neighbourhood beautiful, clean, desirable and a nice place to walk and hang out,” she says.


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