Were the Jets leaving the best thing to happen to Winnipeg?

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Finance | Executive Assistant

Many Winnipeggers remember April 28, 1996, as the day when the Jets played their final game in the old Winnipeg Arena. Despite a last-minute effort by to keep them here in our city, they left us that day. At this time, I was only four years old, and I had yet to comprehend how vital the Jets were to Winnipeg. It would take another 22 years before I experienced the level of devotion and love that the city has for their sports teams. So why would I, as someone who wasn’t around for the glory days of the Jets, claim that the Jets leaving was the best thing that happened to this city?

All it takes is a look back at how our city has developed. During the nineties, our population growth was well below the national standard, growing at a low rate of 0.7 percent per year. Businesses also closed up shop, and downtown stopped seeing any significant growth. The Winnipeg Jets became the first of many casualties in our city, bookended with the closure of Canada’s second largest Eaton's location in Downtown Winnipeg. Oddly enough, however, both of these casualties resulted in the resurgence of Winnipeg over the next 19 years—from the moment Eaton's closed their doors in 1999.

Now, historically and economically, professional sports teams can do little to influence the economy of the city if done incorrectly. However, for Winnipeg, the building of The MTS Centre (now Bell MTS Place) was a much-needed injection into the heart of our city. This negative impact can be seen in the latest tax write off for the Investors Group Field, while some buildings exceed and help boost the economy and growth within a city, some eventually become a casualty to the economy.  

Governments can justify subsidizing sports stadiums because of the economic impact it will have on the community. Building a new stadium will introduce new, albeit temporary, jobs into the economy. Yet, while the jobs will often last only a few years or until the stadium is complete, it will provide many opportunities to host an array of events such as AHL and eventually NHL Games, and many other concerts and activities that will lead to what economics refers to as the multiplier effect. The multiplier effect is the process in which one dollar of spending creates more than one dollar in economic activity. This effect is caused by fans who spend money on parking, food, snacks and drinks at the arena, which then generates revenue and jobs for the local community. By building a new arena, it brings the potential for new developments in the surrounding area, which in turn, will create new economic activity and increased traffic that will lead to the revitalization of that area.

Winnipeg is a prime example of this. From hosting of the World Juniors in 1999 (the old arena) to the building of the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge, the opening of the downtown Red River College Campus, the development of the Bell MTS Place, and the redevelopment of areas at The Forks. We began to see rapid growth in our downtown core and the city as a whole. The Province of Manitoba green lit the development of new neighbourhoods like Bridgwater to address our growing population. Furthermore, during this time, Winnipeg established its identity as a cultural hub for events, including Festival du Voyageur, Winnipeg Folk Festival and Folklorama, which continue to draw Canadians from other provinces and Americans. In itself, Folklorama is the longest running festival of its kind in the world.

Even though Winnipeg lost a part of its identity when the Jets left in 1996, we slowly developed a new one that helped us become a more diverse destination for some of the most popular events in Canada. The return of the Winnipeg Jets in 2010 was the beginning of an accelerated change in this city, and we have continued to grow since then. It felt like we regained a new part of our identity that would not have flourished had the Jets stayed. Winnipeg’s investment in the arts, community growth initiatives, to the redevelopment and revitalization of downtown, like the SHED District, has started to show.

A report in 2017 had the population of people living in the downtown area as just south of 17 thousand, which was a 52 per cent growth rate in 30 years. Downtown has become a place in which people want to live and continue to move to, and developers such as True North, Glasshouse Skylofts and 300 Main provide modern living options that reflect the growth of our city. They understand that Downtown Winnipeg is a destination place. Moreover, businesses—that at one time—left Winnipeg and downtown have either returned or opened new establishments.  

While many sources debate whether professional sports teams have any positive impact on the economy, I believe the effect left on communities in Winnipeg because of the Jets moving has mainly been positive. Not to mention, how that impact has complemented the city's overall population growth. Winnipeg’s population in 2005 started rising 1.5 per cent each year and has remained steady over the last couple of years. In fact, the growth has been above the national standard for growth according to the latest Government Census.   

Winnipeg has grown exponentially since that fateful day, 22 years ago. With the addition of new developments, revitalized and restored buildings and a diverse venue of activities for everyone, the only direction for Winnipeg is up. As our downtown continues to improve, we must also find innovative ways to invest in its growth. So, with saying that, if we want Downtown Winnipeg to continue to thrive, we must keep developing and looking for ways to continue making our city more vibrant and culturally known, and a place that people want to visit at all times of the year.

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