Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Portage-Main makeover

$10M to renovate Richardson Concourse, former bank building

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A $10-million redevelopment project is underway at Portage and Main that will include an extensive makeover of the underground Richardson Concourse and the introduction of major new office and retail tenants to the area.

James Richardson & Sons Ltd. (JRSL) is undertaking the three-part project, including a floor-to-ceiling, end-to-end makeover of the retail concourse linking its Richardson Building office tower to a smaller office building it owns at 161 Portage Ave. East.

That seven-storey building, often referred to as the former Bank of Canada building, is being extensively renovated as part of the same project. The third component is an expansion of the heated portion of the six-storey, 700-stall parkade on Lombard Avenue, which JRSL also owns.

The concourse renovations quietly got underway last week and will continue into 2011. The office building and parkade will be renovated over the spring and summer.

JRSL president and CEO Hartley Richardson said Friday the concourse redevelopment has been in the planning for several years.

"It was looking tired and was in need of an upgrade," he said, "but we wanted to make sure we did it right and in a comprehensive way."

The renovations to the former Bank of Canada building were triggered in part by the recent landing of a major new tenant -- Wardrop, a Tetra Tech company -- which has leased half of the space in the building (32,000 square feet in total).

Richardson said the company will not only be renovating the space Wardrop is taking -- it wants to move in before the end of August -- but also all of the common areas, including the front entrance and lobby, the main floor area, the hallways and washrooms.

JRSL built the building for the Bank of Canada in the early 1970s and purchased it from the bank when it moved out about 15 years ago.

Richardson said the building was designed with bank-related features, including bullet-proof glass, a security cage on the main floor and vaults in the basement.

"It's a bit like Fort Knox... and what that did was it made it very difficult to utilize it for other commercial purposes. So we concluded it needed to be converted back to a full commercial office building."

Richardson said JRSL expects to add a number of new high-profile retail and service-related tenants to the concourse.

Dave Finnbogason, the company's vice-president of corporate development, said negotiations are underway with local and national companies, but they can't say who they are until deals are completed.

Finnbogason said there are 11 tenants in the mall and more will be added, but how many more hasn't been determined.

He and Richardson said the concourse will get new floors and ceilings and redecorated walls and pillars.

A number of tenants will also be relocating within the mall to make room for the new additions, which will include a 450-seat conference centre being built at the south end.

The conference centre can be rented by either JRSL tenants or outside parties such as the nearby Fairmont Hotel, Richardson said.

Nathan Detroit's Sandwich Bar is one of the tenants that will relocate.

Owner Fraydel Yamron and her daughter, Brenlea, who have been operating the restaurant since 1981, said they're looking forward to moving to the middle of the concourse with its improved visibility and more walk-by traffic.

They'll also be able to design the new space to better suit their needs, they said.

The redevelopment comes about two years after Toronto-based Crown Realty Partners undertook a $3-million refurbishing of the adjoining Winnipeg Square underground mall and the front lobby area of the highrise office tower at 360 Main St.

Several years ago, the city and a number of Portage-and-Main property owners proposed a $10.5-million facelift for the intersection, including reopening it to pedestrian traffic during evenings and weekends.

But Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz and downtown development agency CentreVenture have said they won't pursue that initiative unless all seven property owners at the intersection agree to it. And Crown Realty continues to oppose it because a 40-year deal signed in 1979 by the city and the property owners forbids pedestrian traffic at the intersection.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2010 B6

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