Revenue at The Forks North Portage Partnership was down 35 per cent for the year ending March 31, 2021.
Staff has been cut to the bare bones.
Capital expenditure for anything but the most essential jobs has been put on hold. (For instance, any new tenants in the Public Market are going to have to take on space as is.)
But with all that bad news and on-going uncertainty about how to continue to manage through the pandemic, Sara Stasiuk couldn’t be more excited about being named the new president and CEO of The Forks North Portage Partnership.
Sure, everyone is excited about a promotion – Stasiuk has been the vice-president finance and operations for the past five years – and this is The Forks, after all, regardless of its current state of disrupted affairs.
"It is a complete honour to be entrusted to it," she said.
Stasiuk, a chartered professional accountant who spent seven years as executive director of Manitoba Music before joining The Forks, said that all her life she has been interested in how people’s interaction with things changes that thing.
"That is what I love about The Forks. How people who use the place get to make the decision about what we are everyday," she said. "All we do is lay a safe, curious and interesting foundation for people to turn it into what it needs to be for the community."
And after all we have gone through, the city needs The Forks to continue to be that grand meeting place and Stasiuk is committed to making sure that remains the case.
For instance, as long as Mother Nature co-operates she said The Forks will go big on the river trail again this year as it did last year even though its revenues had just about dried up at the time.
“It is a complete honour to be entrusted to it." — New president and CEO of The Forks North Portage Partnership, Sara Stasiuk
"Our choice (last year) was either go into pause mode while the whole city was hibernating, or take a big risk," she said. "We decided to go harder on the river trail than we ever had before."
Stasiuk enthusiastically embraces the importance of maintaining the celebratory meeting place role The Forks plays even if it’s in the midst of a global pandemic.
In fact, she is the kind of leader that understands that just because operations are at a base level it does not mean it can’t be an exciting time.
"I see it as a huge opportunity to rebuild this place in a modern way," she said. "This is a 30 year-old organization. So a lot of the ways we did things were 30 years old. Maybe it’s a good time to be able to look at how we do things and rebuild to be a modern site for a modern community."
Stasiuk is up for the challenge of taking over a position whose predecessors, Paul Jordan and Jim August before him, molded The Forks in sometimes audacious ways
Conor Lloyd, a member of The Forks’ board, said the board has no doubt it made the right decision.
"She is a visionary leader, with lots of energy. She embodies what The Forks is," he said. "This is a creative, engaging space that’s open to everyone to be a part of. Sara has very much that same vibe and personality (that her predecessors had). I know she is going to do great things."
From a practical point of view, it’s the long-awaited residential development that will be taking a lot of her time in the coming months.
Railside at The Forks, which eventually will become home to more than 1,000 residential units, is now in the final stages of its first chapter. Much of the work to build the geothermal heating and cooling plant was done this past summer.
“This is a 30 year-old organization. So a lot of the ways we did things were 30 years old. Maybe it’s a good time to be able to look at how we do things and rebuild to be a modern site for a modern community.” — Sara Stasiuk
"I started at The Forks five years ago when Railside was just becoming an active file. It has been a slow process of getting to where we are which is about one metre from the end of the beginning," she said. "I think come early next summer we should be in the ground with developers working at putting up their buildings, finally."
In the meantime she’ll have her hands full with the administrative, legal and financial work of turning the propsals that developers have been reviewing into development agreements.
Regardless of how long it has taken to get to this point with the residential component that was envisioned to be part of The Forks 30 years ago when it was created, Stasiuk understands the evolutionary flow to The Forks.
Ten years ago it invested in geothermal for the Public Markets buildings, making the decision to do the same with the Railside project a little easier.
"It is kind of cool to be able to test these new ways of doing things and make the investments up front," she said. "Everybody wins."
As the new leader of the organization, there is no question for Stasiuk about worrying about making a short term impact.
"We are all in this for the long run," she said.
Meanwhile, the future of Portage Place is definitely in question.
The Forks North Portage Partnership owns the land the mall sits on and the parkade. The deal with Starlight to buy the mall and build residential towers at each end appears dead and, with few people working downtown the revenue from Portage Place parkade has taken quite a hit.
"It's no news that Portage Place is suffering," Stasiuk said. "There was a deal on the table, now there's no deal on the table. Everyone has gone back to their separate corners. When the dust settles then we'll figure out what the future holds."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.