The value of building permits is sometimes quoted as an index of vitality, and in recent years Winnipeg’s performance has been the source of considerable satisfaction. But even here, if one analyzes the data carefully, the performance of the Downtown should be the source of some anxiety rather than a source of satisfaction to those who value a vigorous and lively central area.
In 1961 the total value of building permits in the Downtown was $1,526,992, which represented 2.4% of the total value of permits in the whole of Metropolitan Winnipeg. In 1966 the permit value of Downtown construction was $1,550,025 which represented 1.8% of the total value of Metropolitan permits a drop of .6% in the Downtown's share which is of course not a very serious decline. But when one considers the fact that the increase in the Metropolitan area's building permits in 1966 over that in 1961 was 35% (from $62.4 million to $84.3 million) while the corresponding increase in the Downtown was only 1.5%, (from $1.52 million to $1.55 million) the comparison is not so encouraging. The year 1968 was a record building year in Metropolitan Winnipeg with the total value of permits standing at $124.4 million. This represented almost 100% increase over the total permit value of 1961. The Downtown, too, saw a substantial increase in permit values, the Downtown total standing at $2.3 million. However, this increase again represented only 1.8% of the Metropolitan total (in 1961 the ratio was 2.4%), and represented an increase of 50% over the Downtown's 1961 performance, as compared to almost 100% for the entire Metropolitan area.
This [XMLmind] performance of the Downtown in terms of relative values of construction would be quite acceptable, even gratifying, if the Downtown were fully developed, as it is in many cities, and there were simply no available land for building. But in view of the extremely high proportion of vacant land in the central area, the building permit record does not indicate a vigorous developmental condition.
In any case, the value of building permits is not a very reliable indicator, unless the period of analysis is long enough to indicate definite long-term trends. On a short-term basis, the picture is too easily distorted by one or two large-scale projects which may or may not ever occur again. And furthermore, gross values of construction do not differentiate between construction in the public sector and construction in the private sector, so that one cannot really appreciate the full implications for the economy of these statistics. The figures quoted are really too short-term to provide any firm evidence of a long-term trend; and the Metropolitan record established in 1968 reflects unusually large public projects such as the Air Canada air freight hangar, The Manitoba Institute of Technology, the Metro Transit garage and the Centennial Centre museum, the equivalent of which may or may not occur again in Winnipeg.