© Geoff Brookes
The cynical reader might point out that both of them are successful businessmen – David Thomson is reputedly among the richest in the world – and that they are all about making profits, as successful businessmen do.
But if you have listened to either of them speak – on any subject – you are immediately struck by a realization that they are passionate about what they do; that their values have less to do with dollar signs, and more to do with making a difference in their world.
On May 31, 2011, as I listened to the news conference for the return of the Jets, in the Boston Pizza at City Place with my friend Chuck, the fans listening to the news conference grew respectfully quiet, as David Thomson prepared to answer this question from the media:
May 31, 2011 – Question posed to David Thomson:
“You’ve been a partner with True North for some time. What [is it] about the Chipman family, True North, and the City of Winnipeg [that] has made you want to make this kind of investment in a city that you don’t live in?”
David Thomson (my emphasis added with underlining and italics):
“I have a deep attachment to the City, the Province and to the Country.”
“I go back longer than I like to remember [smiling], to my Hudson’s Bay Company days.”
“And probably in every nook and cranny, certainly, in this country, in the rural communities, there’s… [pause] …there’s a heartfelt sense of community, in Winnipeg, and in Manitoba.”
“I’ve always felt inspired by the leadership, by the ambition…”
“And there’s been more than a tinge of regret in me, as with all other Winnipeggers and Manitobans, that the Jets left.”
“And in working through the development of [the] MTS [Centre], and forging a rapport, and a working relationship with Mark [Chipman], and his executives, we feel very very strongly about one another’s values, and about the possibilities that lie ahead – to actually move something forward that’s distinctive, and makes a difference in peoples’ lives.”
“So I am committed to this community, as I am to this country.” “It’s about time!”
Youtube video, at the 31:45 mark
The crowd at Boston Pizza (and, I’m sure, all over Manitoba) was stunned by this eloquent, sincere expression of support for the City of Winnipeg and Province of Manitoba.
At that moment in time, we were celebrating the return of the Jets (even if they hadn’t been named yet). But with hindsight, it seems clear to me that David Thomson was speaking of a vision that went far beyond the return of the NHL hockey team.
While he and Mark Chipman will very likely make some good money on their new Winnipeg investments, it is even more clear to me that there is a deeper reason why a man like David Thomson is making such investments in the City of Winnipeg. After all, he could probably make new real estate investments in any city that he chose, perhaps anywhere in the world. But he chose Winnipeg as the place for this investment – “to actually move something forward that’s distinctive, and makes a difference in peoples’ lives.”
So how have they changed the City of Winnipeg?
Fifteen years ago, I was taking one of my children downtown, on a Friday evening, for one of their regular activities. It was sometime after 6 PM. After my daughter was happily engaged in the group activity, I went to see if I could buy a book from one of the few remaining downtown bookstores. Alas, it was closed. Not only that bookstore, though – it seemed like downtown Winnipeg was a deserted movie set, with no-one walking the streets, and nothing open. I felt that if I were to punch one of the tile or brick walls, that the wall might cave in like thin movie set material – like sculpted styrofoam moulding, instead of concrete.
It felt spooky.
I went back to my daughter’s group music lesson, partly because I felt a fatherly duty, but also because there really wasn’t anything else to see or do nearby on that Friday evening, on empty downtown streets.
Now, in 2017, there is a plan for downtown Winnipeg, organized into districts, one of which is the “SHED” – “Sports, hospitality and entertainment district”. This plan has been developed by “Centreventure” (a city of Winnipeg organization), but make no mistake – there has been a huge vision and commitment supplied by the companies controlled by Chipman and Thomson, including True North Sports and Entertainment (TNSE), Centrepoint, and Longboat.
These companies have been the leaders in two major developments around the MTS Centre (recently renamed Bell MTS Place):
- Centrepoint – the large new complex located across Portage Avenue from Bell MTS Place; and
- True North Square – a massive new complex under construction just South and West of Bell MTS Place
Centrepoint includes a hotel, restaurants, commercial office space, and a residential condo development called “Glass Houses”.
True North Square will occupy both sides of Carlton Street, with 4 towers, and an amazing courtyard that will be a gathering place for pedestrians in downtown Winnipeg.
Among the many ideas behind these developments is the concept of bringing people downtown – to work, to play, and to live. The plan involves achieving a higher level of downtown population density in order to create a virtuous circle, where it becomes increasingly attractive for ever more people and businesses to locate downtown. (The word “density” is frequently used in descriptions of the SHED district).
This density seems to be occurring already – whether or not TNSE’s investments are part of the motivation. Other new developments include another office tower and residential condo tower near Main and Graham, and the new residential condo’s on River Avenue.
One City official said that they would like to see the number of people that are living downtown grow from about 13,000 to as much as 20,000. The increase in downtown residents would create added energy and vibrancy for the downtown, and the potential for the virtuous circle of new businesses serving new residents.
What kind of overall impact are TNSE’s real estate projects having on the Manitoba economy?
The two main projects – Centrepoint and True North Square (“TNS”) – are quoted as involving investments of $130 million and $400 million, respectively, for a total of $530 million. (These figures are the totals for the projects – TNSE has brought other investors and financiers into the mix, but let’s give them the credit for making it happen!) TNS has only just started construction of phase 1, during the past year.
But to put the massive size of these projects into perspective, the $530 million is roughly half of the normal commercial construction for the entire Province of Manitoba in a typical year (source – 2015 Manitoba budget documents on the Manitoba economy). If you apply a reasonable two times multiplier to that number (to take into account how that money gets re-spent by others), that is likely to be a billion dollars in Manitoba economic activity, from these two TNSE projects!
OK, that’s too many numbers, and frankly they are too big for me to comprehend, really. What will it mean to me, in my life?
Check out these photo’s:
and the “must watch” video:
There is indeed a growing confidence in Winnipeggers, in the renewing City of Winnipeg. People are gathering downtown again, in ever-increasing numbers. No longer is the downtown deserted. Instead, Mark Chipman and David Thomson are building places for Winnipeggers to meet and share their lives with each other, and share experiences together.
I can tell you that, in my life, and in my children’s lives, that we will enjoy a vibrant downtown Winnipeg, full of people at work, at play, and at home.
Thank you, Mr. Chipman and Mr. Thomson!