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Huge new 'infill' Southwood Circle planned at Winnipeg's UM

University of Manitoba to engage developers to build district for 20,000 residents, 12M sq. ft. of space

A rendering of the proposed Southwood Circle development on property owned by the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg. (Courtesy University of Manitoba, UM Properties)
A rendering of the proposed Southwood Circle development on property owned by the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. (Courtesy University of Manitoba, UM Properties)

The University of Manitoba has a $5-billion plan to partner with private developers and build what it calls the largest and most sustainable infill development in Winnipeg's history – Southwood Circle.

Southwood Circle is to be a complete mixed-use community, home to more than 20,000 people at full build-out. The University of Manitoba campus, Smart Park and Southwood Circle are to have a combined daily population of residents, students, staff and faculty of over 60,000 when complete.

The neighbourhood is to comprise over 12 million square feet of new residential, commercial and institutional space representing over $5 billion in private investment.

It will also house the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, to be located on Southwood property granted to the NCTR by the University of Manitoba.

Southwood Circle to engage private developers

“In many ways, Southwood Circle will be a model community, based on what we know makes healthy, vibrant neighbourhoods. That means it's walkable, it's diverse, it promotes active living and it's sustainable,” Greg Rogers, CEO of UM Properties, told RENX.

"This community has been planned with careful attention to Indigenous-design principles that embrace the need to live in harmony with nature and with one another.”

The university owns the land, formerly the site of Southwood Golf and Country Club, which it leases to UM Properties (the land developer). UM Properties would sublease parcels of the land for terms of 99 years, with renewal options, to third-party developers to facilitate the project.

UM Properties is a limited partnership whose units are controlled by a University of Manitoba trust.

Rogers said the development will include about 11,000 residential units on 80 acres of net developable land. Over the long haul, the site will likely include between 50 to 70 buildings.

Housing will all be focused on multifamily, including apartment-style units and townhomes. The residential will be a mix of condo and rental and Rogers said there will be a mix of everything from affordable to premium to market.

“There will be some hospitality. There will be some seniors here. There will be a mix of all kinds of different uses,” Rogers said, adding there will also be at least one hotel.

“In South Winnipeg today, there’s probably room for 300 to 400 rooms. It’s under-served. We’re hoping to see eventually 300,000 square feet of retail. There can be institutional health-care-type uses. We’re zoned for that.

"I would anticipate some entertainment-type uses to be near the stadium (IG Field, home of the CFL Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Valour FC soccer club), for example.

"It could be anything from a large indoor water park to a small convention/concert sports venue space. There’s a lot of those kinds of uses that are short on good facilities in Winnipeg and we’re at the terminus of a bus rapid transit route.

"It’s a logical place to cluster more of those kinds of uses together.”

Multitude of uses in an infill community

Rogers said the retail component would likely include grocery, banks, bars and restaurants also within walking distance to the university campus. Medical, dental and other health-related uses are also in the mix - essentially a major focus on needs-based commercial. 

“We’re at the base of a major employment node in Winnipeg. . . . From Southwood, you can walk to 15,000 jobs between the university, Smart Park and Victoria General Hospital,” he said.

“So the more employment kinds of uses we can cluster on this community, the better. You can live here and walk to work. It’s pretty good.”

Rogers said Southwood Circle will be similar to the mixed-used University District development at the University of Calgary. He anticipates about half a dozen developers will take part in the Winnipeg project.

“We are planning a retail district, medium- and high-rise product, adjacent to the university. More walkable in our case to the university than I think University District is. We also have a hospital next door. We’re very similar in a lot of ways,” he said.

Conceptual drawing of the Southwood Circle development planned for property owned by the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg. (Courtesy University of Manitoba, UM Properties)
Conceptual drawing of the Southwood Circle development planned for property owned by the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. (Courtesy University of Manitoba, UM Properties)

Rogers said construction is to start by the end of this year to get servicing into place. Services for the first phase is to be complete by September 2024, at which point the first building is expected to start. 

“It’s infill. So like every other city in the world, they’re looking to grow in and not out. It’s expensive to grow out. It’s inefficient to grow out and I think people’s lifestyles are becoming increasingly oriented towards a more urban-activated lifestyle than the traditional single-family home alternative,” he said.

“The university itself wants to transform. The intention is that this property is an extension of the campus.

"So you gain the energy that’s associated typically with universities, that youthful energy, all of the amenities that are at the university that are available to anybody whether you go or not; you can go to the libraries, you can join the active living centre, you can go to a play, you can go to an art gallery.

"All of those amenities that every other community dreams of having are already here. If we build houses around it, we don’t have to build any more of that. We can get better utility out of those things that exist.”

The plan has been 15 years in the making since the University of Manitoba purchased the former golf course property.

Southwood Circle will use existing city infrastructure, including sewer and water pipes, roads and transit services. Developers will only have to build 2.5 kilometres of new roads.

Designing a sustainable community

The Southwood Circle design team, including Anishinaabe architect Ryan Gorie, was tasked with designing a community that embraced nature and preserved the 5,000 trees on the property, some as old as 300 years.

The team created a  21-acre park network of existing forest for trails and to serve as wildlife corridors – twice the municipal requirement – and includes nine acres of waterfront park.

Under the Southwood Circle forest management plan, two trees will be planted for every tree that is removed. An on-site tree nursery is planned to supply new trees.

“All the buildings are required to be LEED gold, so this will eventually be the largest LEED gold community in the country,” Rogers said. 

The future National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation will be a large community building. 

Southwood Circle is to create a Living Lab Research Consortium to which all of the developers will belong.

Each developer will participate in data gathering, sharing and researching in various aspects of community development, from environmental and sociological impact to engineering and architectural design.

This will give faculty and student researchers the opportunity to collaborate among peers and with developers on interdisciplinary research projects.

Results are to be shared within and beyond the consortium members, to help promote sustainability and wellness. 

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