Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Negotiations break off with chain to occupy former Papa George's

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A Canada Day welcoming party for a new tenant in one of Winnipeg's highest-profile retail sites is likely off.

The former home of Papa George's restaurant in Osborne Village, which has been empty since the popular late-night eatery closed in October after 35 years, was close to having a new occupant, but negotiations have broken off between the real estate broker and a "large international restaurant chain" after five months.

"We haven't got a deal. I'm disappointed. I felt they wanted too much. We had done quite a bit of work on the premises," said Graeme Rowswell, head of G. T. Rowswell Realty Leasing Co.

He wouldn't name the company with which the negotiations broke down, but rumours last fall were that Tim Hortons and McDonald's were kicking the tires.

"Whoever is going to go in there is going to have to have some deep pockets," he said.

The nearly 3,000-square-foot space has been completely gutted.

Chief among Rowswell's concerns is the "financial responsibility" of any future tenants.

"Sixty per cent of restaurants fail within the first two years," he said.

Salisbury House had also publicly expressed interest in moving into the space, but the Winnipeg-based chain's CEO, Earl Barish, said Monday he's no longer pursuing it.

He said the projected upgrading costs would be significant, because the building has been neglected for a lengthy period of time.

The lack of parking is another issue and one he just dealt with on the Esplanade Riel.

The City of Winnipeg recently terminated a leasing agreement with Sals for its bridge location, which had operated there for seven years.

The city has also invited parties interested in the 4,000-square-foot space to submit written offers before the end of the month.

Rowswell said he was hoping to have the new tenant open up in time for the annual Osborne Village Canada Day festivities, but he doubts that timeline can be met now.

He said he didn't think his warnings about costs would scare off potential tenants.

"Don't forget, Papa George's was in there for 35 years and did a phenomenal business. The characteristics of that corner and the atmosphere of Osborne Village should be of interest to somebody that has the ambition and financial responsibility to carry forth," he said.

Rowswell admitted five months of negotiations was a long time, considering it's not uncommon for agreements to be concluded in as little as six weeks.

"There has been a lot of curiosity about the property. We haven't gone out and promoted it because of the negotiations. We didn't want to have a situation where we were playing one (potential tenant) against the other," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2013 B6

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