Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Canada Building to live again

One of biggest leasing deals to hit market in years

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A century-old downtown building has landed one of the biggest office-leasing deals to hit the market in years, providing another key building block in the efforts to revitalize the once-downtrodden North Portage area.

The seven-storey Canada Building, just off Donald Street and Ellice Avenue, has been awarded a 20-year deal to provide Manitoba Housing and Community Development with 71,100 square feet of office space.

The deal will bring about 340 government workers to the area, spark an $8-million-plus refurbishing of the 84,000-square-foot building and gives its owner -- Winnipeg-based Public Capital Co. -- the anchor tenant it has long been seeking.

It also provides another important piece of the puzzle for CentreVenture Development Corp. in its much-ballyhooed bid to revitalize both sides of downtown Portage Avenue.

"It's a great complement to everything we're trying to do with that whole block north of the MTS Centre," CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan said in reference to a $75-million Longboat Development Corp. development that was unveiled in late June. That project will see a 20-storey office/retail complex, a 12-storey, 154-room boutique hotel and a 464-stall parkade built in the block between Portage and Ellice avenues and Donald and Hargrave streets.

"Getting that site (the Canada Building) now gets us across Ellice and provides a major link between Portage and the Exchange District," McGowan said. "So that area starts to become its own little development cluster."

He said the injection of 340 new office workers also could lead to other developments in the area and attract new retail tenants for the two-storey building on the northwest corner of Ellice and Donald.

That building, which is also owned by Public Capital, lost its main-floor tenant on Sept. 30 when the owner of Discreet Boutique closed his business after 23 years at that location, saying he was fed up with panhandlers and drunks harassing his staff and customers.

Public Capital has refused to comment on what redevelopment plans it has for that building.

Ken Roseman, the local commercial sales and leasing specialist with Cushman & Wakefield who brokered the deal for Public Capital, said the firm plans to gut the interior of the building, install new windows, interior walls and mechanical systems, upgrade the electrical system and elevators and add a new atrium to let in more natural light.

"It's an early-1900s building, but when it's finished it will be like new."

Roseman said the top four floors have already been gutted.

The next phase of the redevelopment will get underway early in the new year and will be completed in time for the housing department to move in early in 2013.

The province won't reveal how many buildings were in the running for the contract. It was one of three office-leasing deals it put on the market earlier this year. The others were for 32,600 square feet for the Child and Family Services department and Manitoba Family Services and Consumer Affairs, and 19,800 square feet for Manitoba Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade.

A government spokesman said Friday it's still reviewing the proposals it received for the other two contracts, and the review will continue over the next few months.

Industry sources have said four other buildings were in the running for one or more of the contracts. They include the former Brick's Fine Furniture building at 111 Lombard Ave., the former Motor Vehicles Branch building at 1075 Portage, the former Reiss Fashions building at King Street and McDermot Avenue and the Direct Focus Marketing building at 315 Pacific Ave.

The housing-department contract also called for 150 parking stalls. Roseman said Public Capital has two surface parking lots in the area -- one adjacent to the building and the other on Cumberland Avenue -- that can provide the necessary number of stalls.

He said landing the lease, which includes an option for extending it beyond 20 years, was a real coup.

"This is one of the largest government office leases to be done in a long time."

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2011 B5

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