Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/1/2016 (469 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The downtown Hudson's Bay store is, quite literally, a fraction of its former self.
The quintessentially Canadian retailer has consolidated its operations at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard by closing off the fourth floor and leaving its merchandise to its main and second floors.
"Hudson’s Bay is simply adjusting its store layout in its downtown Winnipeg location in order to improve navigation and enhance the overall shopping experience for customers," said Tiffany Bourre, the company’s Toronto-based director of external communications. "To do so, we are consolidating our retail floor space from three floors to two. There is no change to the assortment of product offered."
Hudson Bay has been reducing the shopping space at its downtown location for years and whenever it shrinks yet again, a new round of speculation about the future of the iconic building is launched.
The store has been operating for the last number of years on the first, second and fourth floors.
(Astute male shoppers would realize the closing of the fourth floor leaves no male washrooms in the remaining retail areas. Men will, however, still be able to use the washroom on that floor.)
The most recent retraction has Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg, worried.
"I think any heritage building where people are moving out is a clear sign that the building is in jeopardy. In order to preserve a building, it has to be occupied," she said.
The challenge facing everybody who wants to see the building return to prominence in downtown Winnipeg is its sheer size. There are precious few retailers looking for anything like the 600,000 square feet that it offers.
Despite being built 90 years ago by Canada’s oldest retail company, the downtown Hudson’s Bay store has not been formally designated a heritage building, she said.
"Although it’s a landmark building that we can’t imagine not having, we can’t protect it from demolition," she said.
That may be technically the case but such a potential scenario is far off in the distance and she said every effort is going to be made to spur new uses and tenants.
"We’re not questioning if we’re redeveloping, it’s how we’re redeveloping," she said.
"It’s a beautiful building from an architectural standpoint. It’s an amazing location for redevelopment."
Both Tugwell and Angela Mathieson, CEO of CentreVenture, believe some level of government assistance, either civic, provincial or federal – or possibly all three – may be required to have the entire space bustling like it used to a couple of decades ago.
Further complicating matters is the sheer width of the building because it limits the amount of natural sunlight that gets in, making it far less attractive for potential business or residential tenants.
Mathieson believes any redevelopment would require an "architectural solution," such as a glass tower down the middle to increase natural sunlight and the likelihood of finding other uses.
"That’s critical. It’s going to be a function of whether that solution, which is required to attract tenants, will come at a price that the tenants can afford," she said.
"It would have the costs of creating a Class A building but because it’s older with the huge floor plate and older mechanical systems, you can only (develop) a budget where you can achieve Class B rent."
Mathieson said CentreVenture has tried to help Hudson’s Bay out over the years by pointing it in the direction of potential tenants but nothing much has come of it.
"It’s by far the largest heritage building we have in downtown Winnipeg. I like to compare it to the Richardson Building. If you turn it on its end and stretched it out, they would be the same size," she said.