Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Long-awaited downtown grocer may be due

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A Winnipeg developer is hoping to succeed where others have failed by attracting a full-service grocery store to the heart of Winnipeg's downtown.

The Sunrex Group of Companies has spent about $2 million converting the former Dreman Place office/commercial building on downtown Portage Avenue into a new mixed-used development with a condo on each of the upper five floors and two commercial units on the ground level.

Winnipeg's downtown development agency -- CentreVenture Development Corp. -- is interested in leasing the smaller unit -- about 1,200 square feet -- for one of two small-business incubators it hopes to open in the downtown.

And Sunrex hopes to lure a full-service grocery store to the other 11,000-square-foot spot, which is two units combined into one.

"This space is perfect for a downtown food store," Sunrex vice-president Phil McAmmond said during a recent tour of the building, which is located on the south side of Portage Avenue between Fort and Garry streets.

"They (downtown officials) have always talked about getting a grocery store downtown, but it hasn't happened. But we're firm believers in getting it done. You're not going to find a Sobeys or a Safeway to take it, but you might be able to find a Food Fare or something like that."

McAmmond said Sunrex can either rent out the space or sell it as a commercial condo. He said the Winnipeg office of Colliers International, which is marketing the space, doesn't have a grocery-store tenant lined up as yet. But Sunrex officials remain hopeful one can be found.

If not a grocery store, another option would be a steak house/sports bar, he added.

CentreVenture president and CEO Ross McGowan said a new full-service grocery store would be a great addition to the downtown.

He said the Dreman Place location has some things going for it and some things working against it as a grocery-store location.

For starters, it's the right size. Also, one of the city's busiest bus stops is right outside the front door, there's a 375-stall parkade above it, and it's about a block away from the thousands of people who work in four office towers at Portage and Main.

Working against it is that there are no big condo or apartment complexes within a block or so, he said, and the building isn't connected to the downtown skywalk system.

As for the business incubators, McGowan said negotiations are already underway with Sunrex and the landlords involved.

He said the idea is to let young entrepreneurs use space within the incubators for maybe five or six months to test their concepts. Hopefully they can make a go of it and eventually move into their own downtown spaces.

"It would be tied into a broader retail strategy (for the downtown)," he added.

-- McNeill

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2014 B5

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