The former owner of a century-old retail/warehouse building on Lombard Avenue admits she had some serious reservations when she and her husband sold the heritage property in late 2008.
Cynthia Brick, co-owner of Brick's Fine Furniture, said she wasn't worried the new owners wouldn't do a good job converting the 111-year-old building at 111 Lombard Ave. into an energy-efficient office complex. They'd already successfully redeveloped a similar heritage building next door at 93 Lombard.
Her concern was what would happen to the building, which she and her husband, Fred, had owned for 37 years, if the new owners couldn't land the anchor tenant they needed for the project to proceed.
"They didn't have anybody lined up at the time," she said in a recent interview, and the global economy was in the throes of a major recession.
"So there was an awful lot of apprehension that somehow it was going to fall into disuse and eventually become a parking lot."
But while it took more than three years, United Equities Group (UEG) and leasing agents Joe Diner and Vici Marentette, of CBRE Manitoba, eventually landed two major tenants for the building -- Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) and the provincial Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade Department (ETTD).
Now, some two years later, the $25-million redevelopment project is more than two-thirds completed and is proceeding on time and on budget. ETTD moved into its space about a year ago -- it occupies all of the main floor and part of the second floor -- and HRSDC is scheduled to take possession of the top three floors this fall.
That leaves about 25,000 square feet on the second and third floors left to fill, and Diner said in an interview talks are ongoing with several prospective tenants.
Brick said she's toured the 132,000-square-foot building several times since the redevelopment project began, and she likes the way it's turning out.
"They've done the best they could given the restrictions you have to work with when you're converting something to offices," she said. "And I'm very happy that (the building) is going to continue (for many more years)."
Barbara Lapointe, property manager for UEG and another related property management and development firm -- MPN Holdings -- said they essentially gutted the interior and installed new elevators and new electrical, plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in the building.
They also preserved and restored as much of the building's original heritage features as possible. That included washing the exterior brick walls, sandblasting layers of paint off the interior brick walls and exposing as many of the large, wooden support posts and beams as possible.
"We wanted to bring it back to its original beauty," she said.
They also built a five-storey, glass-walled addition onto the back of the U-shaped building.
The new section provides an unobstructed view of Waterfront Drive and the Red River and adds an extra 2,500 square feet of usable space on each floor.
"It adds a vista and beauty and all of that," Diner said, "but it also adds efficiencies for the tenants."
Lapointe said the feedback so far from the building's tenants has been very positive.
"They've written me a letter saying how happy they are with the building."
She said at no time did UEG officials have second thoughts about taking on such a big project or think it might not get done. The project's architect, Number Ten Architectural Group, and the lead contractor -- J & J Penner Construction Ltd. -- both have lots of experience at redeveloping old buildings. And despite its age, they knew the building itself was solid as a rock.
"It's been a challenge, but it's been a fun challenge," she said. "And it will be so rewarding when it's done."
-- -- --
Winnipeg is about to get a second Habitat for Humanity recycled-building-supplies store.
A new 9,000-square-foot Habitat ReStore is scheduled to open June 1 in the former Canada Safeway store at the corner of Ellice Avenue and Wall Street.
Tim Frey, vice-president of ReStores for Habitat for Humanity Manitoba, said the new outlet will be about half the size of its existing store at 60 Archibald St., but will carry many of the same kinds of products. There just won't be as many of each item.
The items will include new and used lumber, doors, windows, paint, plumbing fixtures, appliances and some furniture. But because it doesn't have an outdoor compound, the new store won't carry such things as recycled bricks and sidewalk blocks.
Frey said all the products in the store will be donated to Habitat by individuals, retailers or manufacturers. Proceeds from the sale of the items will be used to help build new homes in the community.
He said Habitat needed a second store to service the western half of the city, and the new location is a perfect fit because it's at the corner of two busy streets, it's in an established residential area, the building has a loading dock and the parking lot is big and well-lit.
CB Richard Ellis Chartier & Associates president Derrick Chartier, who is the property's leasing agent, said the local investors who bought the building several years ago have spent a considerable amount of money redeveloping it.
That included removing the existing facade, reducing the size of the building to about 13,500 square feet from 20,000 square feet, dividing the space into two units, installing new lighting and mechanical systems and constructing a new facade.
"We also knew it (the building) would lend itself better to being subdivided" if it wasn't so deep, he said.
He said the second unit is about 4,300 square feet in size, and "we're working with someone (a prospective tenant) on it right now," he added.
In addition to renovating the main building, the new owners also built a free-standing building on the property, which is now a Cambrian Credit Union outlet.
Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail or industrial real estate sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 204-697-7254.