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University of Manitoba breaks ground on $6-billion mixed-use development

Ontario Construction News staff writer

Southwood Circle, the largest and most sustainable infill development in Winnipeg’s history broke ground last week.

The development is expected to house more than 20,000 people and will be the second largest city in Manitoba, with a combined daily population of over 60,000 people when considering residents, students, staff, and faculty from the University of Manitoba (UM) campus, Smart Park, and Southwood Circle.

The vision for the site is developing a model community that embodies the principles of a healthy and vibrant neighborhood – walkable, diverse, active living-promoting, and sustainable community. Indigenous design principles and living in harmony with nature and each other have been integral to the planning process.

“Southwood Circle is part of a transformation of the 110-year-old Fort Garry campus from a daytime commuter destination to a complete community,” said Michael Benarroch, President of the University of Manitoba. “This community answers the call for sustainable housing options. It will be a unique urban experience, distinct within Winnipeg. It will be rich in amenities. It will integrate the university with the surrounding community.”

The groundbreaking took place at the site of phase 1 of Southwood Circle, which has been 15 years in the making since UM’s acquisition of the former golf course.

Southwood Circle is part of the larger transformation of the University of Manitoba’s 110-year-old Fort Garry campus into a complete community. It will fulfill the demand for sustainable housing options and offer a unique urban experience that seamlessly integrates the university with the surrounding area. UM Properties, responsible for managing the leasing of land parcels throughout Southwood Circle, aims to generate financial benefits for the university as well.

The development team, led by Anishinaabe architect Ryan Gorie, prioritized the preservation of the 5,000 trees currently on the property, some dating back 300 years. A park network consisting of the existing forest will provide trails and wildlife corridors, covering over 21 acres, including nine acres of waterfront park. Two trees will be planted for every tree removed, and plans for an on-site tree nursery are underway.

“We have this unique opportunity to continuously improve energy, water and waste efficiency, and generate higher levels of overall wellness through applied science. We cannot solve the problems of the world on these 80 acres but we can find new and better ways that can be shared and applied elsewhere to make an ever greater contribution to housing and environmental challenges.” said Rogers. “We want this neighbourhood to be a place of wellness, happiness and community. And we want it to be a place of healing too with respect to relationships with Indigenous peoples.”

Additionally, the groundbreaking celebration highlighted the forthcoming National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), situated on Southwood lands granted by the University of Manitoba.

UM Properties has divided the land into parcels to be leased to third-party developers, responsible for constructing buildings according to UM Properties’ design guidelines. The first call for proposals was issued in the summer of 2023, and construction on the initial buildings is slated to commence in 2024. Overall, Southwood Circle expects to host more than 12 million square feet of new residential, commercial, and institutional space, representing over $5 billion in private investment.

Winnipeg’s Deputy Mayor Janice Lukes expressed excitement about Southwood Circle, praising its ability to provide sustainable and welcoming housing for a diverse range of people. She highlighted the cost-effectiveness of the development thanks to its utilization of existing city infrastructure. Winnipeg will only construct 2.5 kilometers of new roads while welcoming an additional 20,000 residents who will benefit from the neighborhood’s proximity to the University of Manitoba’s facilities, including fitness centers, stadiums, and a theater.

“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,” said Greg Rogers, CEO of UM Properties. “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.”

“This is an exciting day for the City of Winnipeg, because we are heralding a brand-new infill neighbourhood designed for people from all walks of life. This will help us house thousands of people in a bright, welcoming, sustainable environment,” said Lukes. “But we’re also happy that this neighbourhood will be built at a very low cost for taxpayers today and in the future.”

Southwood Circle will use existing city infrastructure, including sewer and water pipes, roads and transit services. Lukes said it’s remarkable that Winnipeg will be able to welcome 20,000 more people but only have to build 2.5 kilometers of new road.

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