A couple of local entrepreneurs are hoping to breathe new life into a vacant section of Portage Avenue storefront property that was destroyed by fire in 2009.
Business owners Rudy Torres and John Georgopoulos anticipate working through the winter to finish up a 6,000-sq. ft space currently up for lease at 1851 Portage Ave. near Roseberry Street.
"It’s a good spot, a good location and a good investment," said Georgopoulos, a Westwood resident who owns other small commercial properties in St. James.
On May 20, 2009, a fire caused $3 million in damage to a series of businesses in the 1800 and 1900 blocks on the north side of Portage, including a kick-boxing school and antique shop.
The blaze was classified an arson, but no arrests were ever made, police confirmed.
Torres and Georgopoulos took over the lot, which has been boarded up since, at the beginning of August. The roof of the building should be in place by mid-November, with crews finishing up the interior over the winter.
The two are hoping to attract a medical clinic or professional offices to the space, which will open in spring, Torres said.
"If we can get one tenant in there, like a walk-in clinic and a pharmacy, it would be fantastic," said Torres, who lives in River Heights.
The space will include a 5,000-sq. ft basement along with 22 parking stalls at the back of the building, Torres said.
Constance Menzies, owner of the neighbouring Chocolatier Constance Popp, said she’s relieved to see the space being redeveloped.
Menzies said she has put a significant amount of money into gutting and redeveloping her building since opening five years ago, noting it too suffered damaged during the blaze.
"We’ve improved the space and got the ball rolling," said Menzies, who lives in St. James.
"We were hoping the rest around us would follow suit, and they have. It’s a good thing."
Menzies admitted the section of Portage Avenue isn’t a lucrative one for boutique shops such as hers, even though she has become one of the go-to chocolatiers in Manitoba.
She hopes the new development becomes home to a complimentary business, like a flower shop.
"There’s not a lot of walk-by traffic (around here)," she said, noting she will be opening a second location with a florist in the Richardson Centre Concourse on Nov. 15.