By Stefano Grande
Now that the party is over, taking a step back to reflect on the lessons from the #NHLJets #WpgWhiteOut Street Party, which doubled as a second BellMTS Place, is something that is important and critical. Why?
Like any good party, an encore is a must. And Winnipeggers have spoken; it was a great party! So like any party, how do you make it even more memorable next time? And there will be an opportunity for next time!
Before launching into the lessons, I’d like to offer a tip of the hat to our NHL Jets for making us proud as a city and taking it to the final round of three of the greatest Hockey on earth, the NHL Stanley Cup. Additionally, I’d like to recognize our partners, True North Sports + Entertainment, Economic Development Winnipeg and the City of Winnipeg who hosted the party, along with all of the other partners, staff and volunteers.
Lesson # 1: Close downtown streets for more festivals and events! Something the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ has always known is that when you close a street, throw up a movie screen, add a sprinkle of entertainment and refreshments, Winnipeggers will respond positively. People will come downtown. You see, Winnipeggers love to party outdoors and they do want to rub shoulder to shoulder. Safety and parking are not concerns; all we need is a good excuse. And the Jets playoff run was the mother of all excuses, waking up our neighbors from across North America, who I am sure were wanting to join us.
Lesson #2: True North is about community leadership. Let’s not take the party for granted. The entire team at True North Sports + Entertainment did not have to throw a party. You see, they were all really busy putting on anther pretty big party, the NHL Playoffs inside BellMTS Place. Community leadership is all about doing something more for your community, than for yourself. The party allowed Winnipeg to come together and showcase our city, our downtown and our civic pride nationally in a way that millions of dollars just is not able to buy. This leadership often causing tons of stress, work, grief, apprehension and more for the staff asked to lead. And boy did they lead. The 100’s of staff at True North Sports + Entertainment were warriors doing double duty. They are appreciated deeply!
Lesson # 3: City of Winnipeg employees rock! Our community leaders and champions have and will continue to rally together for the good of the community. Always. Everyone bought into the vision, and just somehow made it happen. All the City departments, Economic Development Winnipeg, Manitoba Liquor and Gaming Control, and more rallied around the vision for the event and brought to the table the recipe to make it a reality. The constant and rapid revisiting of the party plan from day to day, speedy decision making, consensus and collaboration is something that I dare to say would not happen in any other city our size or bigger. Our Winnipeg Police Service, Fire Paramedics, Emergency Services, Winnipeg Transit, Pubic Works, special event and key members of the civil service now know that they, their attitude, their readiness, can single handily shape and transform how Winnipeggers think of their city, and help create the community pride. Our civil service are superheros.
Lesson # 4: What parking issues? People will indeed park their car take a bus to the downtown. Transit buses were full, and people walked as far away as The Forks, the Exchange District and St. Boniface, and further, plus even more people rode their bikes into downtown Winnipeg. If there was ever a lesson to learn about why we need to build a downtown with full transportation options, for everyone, this was a shining example that our downtown does not need more surface parking lots or more parkades near the BellMTS Place. We just need more parties, more reasons for people to re-discover their Downtown.
Lesson # 5: What is the Eaton Building? We learned was that building BellMTS Place downtown was indeed a great investment decision. The connection between a vibrant downtown and an emerging sports and entertainment focus, which draws over a million people downtown every year, is the key to our new emerging downtown. This venue has helped in leading an economic growth of food and drink establishments, and has spurred more energy into the arrival of a new downtown, our SHED Distinct, where 100’s of millions in private sector development is occurring. True North Square is a shining example and will be where the Whiteout party will live and quietly burn throughout the year inviting 1000’s of people to gather in its courtyard and celebrate before every Winnipeg Jets Home Game, only to spill our again onto our street as our goal to the Stanley Cup continues. The lesson here is when we plan for the growth of our downtown, it’s not just about the buildings, but it’s about the vision and plan for the area, the density needed to create the vibrant storefronts and great public spaces.
Lesson # 6: Diversity Lives Here. We learned that sport and parties bring together people of all incomes, ages, races, genders and more. While we all work hard to grow diversity, tolerance and reconciliation, the most positive face of our city was reflected these past weeks, bringing out “Go Jets Go” from everyone. We were able to put our personal challenges and opinions away and come together as Winnipeggers.
Lesson #7: Love. On a personal note, the last lesson I learned is that I can deeply love the Winnipeg Jets again and I love this city and its people.
I’m not sure if others felt this way. While I was happy of the Jets return, I still remember feeling devastated had when they left. You see, some of the greatest memories growing up was going to the old barn with my dad to watch the old Jets play the Montreal Canadians and the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was our alone time every other weekend where dad and son bonded, slapping high fives with people I did not know, celebrating a goal from Hawerchuck and Selanne. It’s taken the street party and the tens of thousands of people slapping hands again, for me to forgive and love again. I love the fact that people got along and were respectful. I love the fact that safety was never an issue as we took care of each other. I love the fact despite the Jets losing we still came up as the winners.
Pride and comradery for each other lives in all of us. When it comes out, it’s transformative in the people we are surrounded by, and the place where we live. This can’t be really measured, but those cities that have it are where people want to be. We are Winnipeg!
Stefano Grande is the CEO of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ