‘Lots of lessons’: Winnipeg learns how to revitalize downtown from former American mayor


The Winnipeg business community, along with several mayoral candidates Tuesday, received a lesson on how to transform the city’s downtown area.

Mick Cornett, Oklahoma City’s four-term mayor, was the guest speaker at a luncheon downtown.

He was able to transform downtown Oklahoma City and described it as once neglected, now vibrant and prosperous.

He said to be successful, cities must be able to attract young educated people to the core and they would drive the economy.

In Winnipeg right now, it’s not hard to find empty storefronts, addiction and homelessness front and center — something the city is trying to get going again.

“Companies continue to struggle as they extricate themselves from pandemic survival debts,” said David Pensato, the managing director of Exchange District BIS.

“The quality of life in the suburbs is directly related to the energy of the core,” Cornett said.

Cornett said the core sat pretty much empty after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, but a program that included a 1 percent sales tax to pay for schools, libraries and an arena helped turn things around.

“The core of Oklahoma City had died. They needed to reinvest downtown.”

He added that the city also has an obesity problem, so they are making efforts to make the downtown area healthier by adding bike lanes, sidewalks and parks, and a rail system.

“We built this city around the car, let’s build it around the people from now on.”

These changes, Cornett said, will help bring younger, educated people to smaller markets like Winnipeg, as long as the downtown area fits their lifestyle.

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“They want to live in a place where life is affordable and where housing costs are not exceptionally high. They want less traffic congestion.”

The luncheon was organized by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the BIS Downtown and Exchange.

“We can learn many lessons from Oklahoma City because it’s smaller,” said Pam Hardman, director of marketing, engagement and communications at Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

Cornett also had some advice for the mayoral candidates in attendance: downtown must be vibrant to attract jobs and people.

“I would be very suspicious of a mayoral candidate who doesn’t understand that,” Cornett said.

Cornett added that he advocates a pedestrian-friendly downtown experience, again referring to the Portage and Main debate, but noting that culture and safety are the most important things to focus on, rather than just an intersection.

According to a 2021 census, Oklahoma City is the 22nd largest city in the United States.

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