Southern Chiefs Organization will transform Bay into multi-use building

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization has struck a deal with Hudson’s Bay Co. to acquire and transform the chain’s flagship store in downtown Winnipeg into a multi-use building, the Free Press has learned.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/04/2022 (224 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization has struck a deal with Hudson’s Bay Co. to acquire and transform the chain’s flagship store in downtown Winnipeg into a multi-use building, the Free Press has learned.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in Winnipeg Friday to unveil the deal Friday. SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels and other officials will attend a news conference at the heritage site.

A look back: Winnipeg's downtown Bay

Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba The Bay's main floor is elbow to elbow with Christmas shoppers in this 1940s photo.

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Winnipeg's downtown Hudson's Bay store is a mammoth icon of a bygone era of downtown department-store shopping.  The building is 515,000 square feet -- almost twice the size of the Winnipeg Ikea store -- but over the years the company has closed off five of the seven floors.

Here's a look back at the downtown Bay over the last 94 years. |

Read full story

Sources said affordable housing and commercial space are among the components of the multimillion-dollar project, which will have Indigenous leadership in a space once occupied by a company that played a major role in the colonization of Canada.

An announcement about the future of the site was expected this spring amid rumours the SCO, which represents and advocates for 34 First Nations in southern Manitoba, was involved in a deal.

A source, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the record, told The Canadian Press the Manitoba government will contribute $10 million, with the federal government and city hall also pitching in.

Premier Heather Stefanson confirmed she will attend Friday’s announcement but she declined to reveal details about the project.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Manitoba will contribute $10 million to the initiative, with the federal government and Winnipeg city hall also pitching in, according to sources.

“I think it’s going to be very significant not just for our province, but for our country,” she said. “I am not, and we are not, the organizers of the event, and out of respect, I really don’t want to say anything more except that I am humbled and honoured to have been asked to be a part of it.”

The city is likely to offer tax incentives.

Coun. Sherri Rollins, a member of city hall’s The Bay downtown advisory committee, said the plan achieves the goals of maintaining the building’s heritage status, and keeping Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard as an “iconic corner.”

“I will be welcoming with open arms all the new residents to the downtown this is going to bring,” said Rollins, who declined to reveal details of the project. “I know Winnipeggers have been looking for this announcement, and looking for visible signs of recovery.”

The site is on the northwest boundary of her ward of Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry.

Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell called it a major redevelopment that will contribute in a “positive way” and focus on reconciliation.

“I’m very excited because this is a new opportunity to create history again,” she said.

“I’m very excited because this is a new opportunity to create history again.” – Cindy Tugwell, Heritage Winnipeg executive director

Mayor Brian Bowman was not available for comment, his spokesman said.

HBC did not respond to a request for comment.

After 94 years of operation, the Bay closed the six-storey landmark store on Nov. 30, 2020, about three months earlier than planned. Downtown Winnipeg was largely deserted at the time, with Manitoba in code-red pandemic restrictions following a spike in COVID-19 cases.

A Manitoba masterpiece: Construction of the downtown Bay

Hudson's Bay Company Archives, Archives of Manitoba Construction of Winnipeg’s downtown Bay store begins in 1925. The building that would open on this spot a year later could boast it was constructed entirely of Manitoba products.

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On the day the downtown Bay opened at 9 a.m. Nov. 18, 1926, it was the largest reinforced concrete building in Canada.

The total budget for the store’s construction was $5,968,000.

Here’s a snapshot of what went into the six-storey construction more than a year earlier. |

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In its final years, the store declined steadily amid a shift toward suburban malls and online shopping, and despite efforts to rejuvenate downtown.

HBC had sublet space and tried to offload the building. The company offered the site as a gift to the University of Winnipeg, which declined in 2012, as the number of staff and selling floors dwindled.

City council gave the Beaux-Arts style building official heritage status in March 2019, which means it can’t be demolished. The designation protects features such as the Tyndall limestone exterior walls, outside canopy and curved elevator lobby. HBC opposed the decision, saying it would be too expensive to maintain character elements.

Potential new owners have been reluctant to take on the site because it would require extensive retrofitting.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The Bay in downtown Winnipeg will become a multi-use building and include a housing component.

About a year before it was shuttered, an appraisal by real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield found the building had a market value of $0, and it could cost up to $111 million to bring it up to code.

Jino Distasio, a professor of urban geography at the University of Winnipeg, said officials will have to overcome several challenges to modernize the site while preserving decades-old features.

Innovative plans are needed to bring natural light into housing units, said Distasio, who hopes to see “boldness” in the design and alterations of the building.

“A multitude of uses is the most likely way they will see some positive outcomes from the project,” he said. “Like everyone else, I’m waiting with baited breath to get the final details.”

Amelia Fay, curator of the HBC Museum Collection at the Manitoba Museum, said affordable housing would be a “phenomenal” component.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES “I would like to see a lot of its beautiful architectural features to be maintained, but put to good use,” said curator Amelia Fay.

“I would like to see a lot of its beautiful architectural features to be maintained, but put to good use,” she said. “It is concrete, so externally it’s quite stable, but a lot of the infrastructure inside is outdated. It’s hugely expensive and probably a bit of a logistical nightmare.”

Sitting idle for 16 months, the fate of the building has been uncertain amid discussions involving a number of groups and experts. City hall formed an advisory committee, and in April 2021 the province committed $25 million in a trust fund for projects that will restore, preserve or maintain heritage elements.

Previously, the province said eligible projects can be completed over a 10-year period until the end of March 2031, with any remaining funds being transferred to its heritage resources endowment fund and to support other historic buildings.

Until now, no one had stepped forward to take over the 650,000-square-foot building — the largest single commercial building in Winnipeg — and give it a new life.

In its heyday, The Bay’s flagship location was one of the most popular department stores in Winnipeg, luring shoppers downtown alongside competitors such as Eaton’s and independent retailers.

In its heyday, The Bay’s flagship location was one of the most popular department stores in Winnipeg, luring shoppers downtown alongside competitors such as Eaton’s and independent retailers.

Canada Life Centre occupies the former Eaton’s site.

After years of planning and delays, The Bay opened its first three floors on Nov. 18, 1926, while work continued on the upper levels.

More than 1,000 workers were involved in the construction of what was then the largest reinforced concrete building in Canada. Its $5-million building permit was a Winnipeg record.

In downtown Vancouver, there are plans to preserve character features of an equally historic HBC flagship building in a redevelopment that will build a 12-storey office tower on top of it.

The Bay store and other retailers will be part of the site, while the tower will have multi-level atriums and a rooftop garden. Construction could begin in early 2024.

— with files from Carol Sanders

chris.kitching@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @chriskitching

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS After 94 years of operation, The Bay closed the six-storey landmark at Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard on Nov. 30, 2020.

Chris Kitching
Reporter

As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

History

Updated on Thursday, April 21, 2022 2:31 PM CDT: Adds line from The Canadian Press

Updated on Thursday, April 21, 2022 7:46 PM CDT: tightens wording

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