Southern Chiefs’ Organization praises potential True North purchase of Portage Place

The Indigenous organization redeveloping the former Bay building in downtown Winnipeg has positive things to say about a potential True North redevelopment of the adjoining Portage Place mall.

But the Southern Chiefs’ Organization is not ready to endorse a proposal by True North Real Estate Development to purchase Portage Place, the parkade below it and rights to build new residential towers above the mall.

The real-estate wing of True North Sports & Entertainment has an option to purchase the 36-year-old mall from Vancouver’s Peterson Group and the other rights from The Forks North Portage Partnership. The option expires at the end of 2023.

Should the privately held company choose to proceed with the purchase, True North plans to convert some of the retail space into services, build affordable housing and demolish the courtyard at Edmonton Street to create an outdoor greenway that would connect Central Park to the rest of downtown.

“I think that could be a great space for downtown and create more vibrancy and I think that the community downtown needs  more investment and I think it’s going to be a good thing,” said Jerry Daniels, grand chief of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, during an interview last week.

“I can’t say that we necessarily support them at this instance, although we do have conversations that are occurring right now and we’ll see how it goes.”

The SCO took title last month to the former Bay building, which is connected by a skywalk to Portage Place.

The SCO, which represents 34 Anishinaabe and Dakota nations in southern Manitoba, plans to spend $130 million over the next three years transforming the former Bay into a multi-purpose development called Wehwehneh Bahgahkinahgohn.

It too would feature affordable housing as well as services slated to include a health centre and a child-care centre.

True North Real Estate president Jim Ludlow said his company has no intention to compete with Wehwehneh and has communicated that to Indigenous leaders.

“I would like to think that when we get further down the road on some of those discussions, that everybody sees it as complementary and not competitive,” Ludlow said in an interview in March.

True North declined to comment on Monday about Daniels’ statements. Spokesperson Krista Sinaisky said it’s too early for the company to speak further about its plans for Portage Place.

The purchase option on the public components of the mall requires True North to conduct community consultations about its proposed redevelopment and if it proceeds with the deal, keep the skywalks connecting the mall to the rest of downtown open from 7 a.m. until midnight.