Waterfront Drive

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Photo Credits: Sactliff Miller Murray


Initial research by: Zoe Goldman

Continued research by: Nicole Brekelmans

Edited by: Samantha Miller

Case study compiled in 2018


Project: Waterfront Drive 

Type of Urban Strategy: Water 

Type of ProjectAlternative neighbourhood /  Downtown Revitalization

LocationWinnipeg, Manitoba

Date Designed/Planned: 2000

Construction Completed: 2004

DesignerSactliff Miller Murray, CentreVenture


Waterfront Drive is a project located in Winnipeg’s downtown to revitalize the west bank of the Red River along with Winnipeg’s Exchange District. Established by CentreVenture and Sactliff Miller Murry, the project strives to create a new vision of the downtown waterfront by creating a focal point for new mixed-use development. The development includes commercial, office, and residential. This development brings the attention back to the river and the adjacent Stephen Juba Park allowing it to become a space for the people. 


Waterfront, previously characterized by gravel parking lots and warehouses, now acts as a thriving area for local amenities with a balanced mixture between new construction, historic buildings, and natural features. This project provides a framework for other expanding downtown neighbourhoods or other revitalization projects, displaying the importance of creating dense urban areas at a pedestrian scale. 

(Scatliff Miller Murray, 2001).




Waterfront Drive is located in downtown Winnipeg, along the west bank of the Red River between Lombard Avenue and Higgins Avenue. The project provides 12 blocks of mixed-use development, riverbank park, and a vibrant public realm.

The project was established in 2000 by CentreVenture Development Corporation as a starting point for the revitalization of Winnipeg’s Exchange District. Historically, the Exchange District was Winnipeg’s centre of industry and trade. The Red River acted as a backdoor to industry and working waterfront filled with railcars and steamships, allowing for easy transportation of products. This remained the primary use of the area until the 1970’s.

Waterfront Drive has brought Winnipeg’s attention back to the river, allowing it to become a space for the people once again. The project acted as a catalyst in the revitalization of Winnipeg’s Exchange District and It has attracted over $250 million in private investment, bringing life into a previously vacant area.


CentreVenture estimated that the total cost of the project would be just over $9 million, including the costs of street works, streetscaping, water and sewers, professional fees, and utilities. The entire project was funded by the three levels of government, through a grant from the Canada-Manitoba Infrastructure Program (CentreVenture, 2018).

In an attempt to attract developments to the new Waterfront Drive, government incentives were essential. The government offered developers a return on their property taxes to help cover costs (Schlesinger, 2015).


Waterfront Drive is located along the west bank of the Red River and is bounded by Lombard Avenue to the south and Higgins Avenue to the north. Its location is in the heart of Downtown Winnipeg, in the historic Exchange District (Scatliff Miller Murray, 2001).

The location of the project is on a former railway transfer track property that served Winnipeg’s waterfront district over 100 years ago. In 1997, the Exchange District was designated as a National Historic Site by the federal government (Schelesinger, 2015). The site was in derelict condition, featuring gravel parking lots, backs of warehouses and rundown properties with broken windows and chain link fences. The park along the river, Stephen Juba Park, was designed with no concern for public safety, as it was huge and featured very low visibility due to the number of trees surrounding it. The area lacked traffic circulation, partially because the streets led to dead-ends, and partly because the safety of the area was in question

(Scatliff Miller Murray, 2001).


Waterfront Drive addresses the disconnect between Downtown Winnipeg and the Red River, and the derelict and underutilized condition of the area. The project provides Winnipeg with a renewed Waterfront District that is connected to the Exchange District and allows for easy access to riverbank amenities. The creation of Waterfront Drive acts as a catalyst for new development in the area and contributes to the revitalization of Downtown Winnipeg.


The goals of Waterfront Drive include:

-Increase residential diversity and support the needs of a growing population

-Promote a thriving urban neighbourhood by attracting terrific local amenities

-Embrace the unique character and scale of the district with each new development

-Encourage modern uses of historic buildings

-Enhance the image and increase public awareness of the history of the district

-Collaborate with the City of Winnipeg Public Works to invest in public infrastructure

(CentreVenture, 2018)


Waterfront Drive began as a response to the run-down and underutilized space on the west bank of Winnipeg’s Red River. However, the project became the beginning of a much larger revitalization initiative. The Waterfront Drive project, funded by the Canada-Manitoba Infrastructure Program in 2001, helped to revitalize downtown, establish a waterfront neighbourhood, and foster economic development. Waterfront Drive provides a much-needed linkage between Winnipeg’s Downtown, the Exchange District and the Red River, while simultaneously creating a thriving and pedestrian-oriented space exemplifies remnants of Winnipeg’s history. The project allows Winnipeggers to re-connect with nature in the downtown setting through its riverbank parks and multi-use paths.


In the process of this project, the designers focused on highlighting the character of the waterfront and the activities that the waterfront provides. Some of the design moves that they did were:

-The waterfront should maintain a park character

-Continuous views to the waterfront are necessary (for safety and aesthetics)

-New development shall face the river (a waterfront address)

-The design shall reinforce the character of the Exchange District

-The project shall promote development that attracts evening and weekend use

-The roadway shall be a continuous drive with no dead-ends

The first phase of the Exchange District Waterfront Strategy began following the completion of the construction on Waterfront Drive in 2004. The new roadway created additional vacant lots facing the river, which provided the opportunity for future mixed-use developments. To attract developers, CentreVenture released a Request for Proposals (RFP) that outlined the district vision, as well as the development criteria for the site, building form, and programming (CentreVenture, 2004).

The second phase of the project, beginning in 2014, currently focuses on public realm improvements and completing the Waterfront Drive neighbourhood. The City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba provided $7.8 million to the Exchange Waterfront Neighbourhood Development Program that will invest in streetscaping, public art, safety measures, alternative transportation, and heritage and retail recruitment strategies (CentreVenture, 2018).


Some of the designer’s tasks involved detailing the drive’s gateways, plazas, pedestrian walkways, furnishings, lighting, and landscaping. The gateways at each end of the drive were designed to recognize the historic character of the Exchange District and signal the transition into the unique area. A series of plazas were proposed to connect the Exchange District with the rest of the downtown and offer “windows” to the Waterfront (Scatliff Miller Murray, 2001). The designers worked alongside local artists to create a series of benches, lights, and signs for Waterfront Drive that express local art, the history of the Exchange District and Winnipeg’s identity (Scatliff Miller Murray, 2001).

It was necessary that the design focused increased access to the riverbank and pedestrian use of the space. The designers used calming traffic measures, such as raised intersections, roundabouts, and parking bays, to ensure pedestrians felt safe crossing from the buildings to the riverbank (Scatliff Miller Murray, 2001).

One of the significant elements of the design was the use of site’s natural features, including Stephen Juba Park and the Red River. The park underwent an extensive redesign that involved splitting it into smaller areas and pruning some of its riverside vegetation to increase views and safety. The planters were designed to mimic the buildings in the Exchange District, featuring large stone and brick exteriors.


-Heritage Buildings with modern uses

-Connections to Winnipeg’s downtown and Exchange District

-Mixed-use developments

-Residential units

-Commercial and Office space

-Stephen Juba Park

-Multi-use path along the riverbank

-Access points and views to the Red River

-Winnipeg’s first roundabout (Corner of Bannatyne Avenue and Waterfront Drive)


Waterfront Drive is a successful urban design initiative that led to the creation of a thriving downtown neighbourhood, increased access to the river and the renewal of the Exchange District. Since the launch of the Exchange District Waterfront Strategy, the neighbourhood has seen over $250 million in private investment and has become a destination spot for Winnipegers (CentreVenture, 2018). Currently, there are over 17 residential and mixed-use projects completed on Waterfront Drive with more underway. A total of $155 million has been invested in residential development, while investments of $81 million were put into commercial projects (Schlesinger, 2015). The presence of residential and mixed-use developments has significantly increased access and traffic on site, which allowed the area to overcome the perspective that it was unsafe.


The waterfront’s neglected condition, safety, and potential for redevelopment have been the topic of many studies before CentreVenture took on the project. The previous studies include: The Exchange District Strategic Action Plan, The North Main Task Force, CentrePlan Development Framework, the 1999 Exchange District BIZ Survey, the 1996 Safety Audit, the Marketing Strategy for the Exchange District National Historic Site, the Heritage Interpretation Strategy for the Exchange District and the Centennial Center Parking Feasibility Study (Scatliff Miller Murray, 2001).

In the spring of 1999, a Waterfront Committee was formed to investigate the waterfronts potential to help revitalize downtown Winnipeg. In 2000, CentreVenture initiated the East Exchange Waterfront Project, which proposed the idea of developing a scenic drive along the Red River in the Exchange District. The proposed drive would provide downtown waterfront addresses and attract mixed-use development, ultimately benefiting the entire Downtown Winnipeg. CentreVenture developed a comprehensive management approach and divided the planning into three areas: preparing a concept design for Waterfront Drive, preparing a Management Strategy for the development of the East Exchange District and undertaking an engineering analysis of site services and bank stability conditions (Scatliff Miller Murray, 2001).

CentreVenture submitted the proposal in 2001, and the City Council approved it shortly after. This project was the beginning of a 17-plus year strategy, built on strong public- and private-sector collaboration, that would create a new destination for all Winnipeggers to enjoy (CentreVenture, 2018).


CentreVenture. "Waterfront Drive: Expectations for New Development." City of Winnipeg. April 2004. https://www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/planning/pdf_folder/WaterfrontDriveExpectations.pdf.

CentreVenture. "The Waterfront." CentreVenture Development Corporation. Accessed August 10, 2018. http://www.centreventure.com/the-waterfront.

Sakiyama, Marli, and Jeff Palmer. "Case in Point 2009: Waterfront Drive Development." University of Manitoba. 2009. https://umanitoba.ca/faculties/architecture/media/CiP_2009_Marli.pdf.

Scatliff Miller Murray. Winnipeg Exchange District: Waterfront Drive Concept Report. PDF. Winnipeg: CentreVenture Development Corporation, 2001.

Schlesinger, Joel. "Hard-won Urban Renewal on Red River Waterfront." The Globe and Mail. June 22, 2015. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/property-report/hard-won-renewal-on-red-river-waterfront/article25058093/.