The former Sears Canada location at St. Vital Centre — a 130,000 square foot box has been empty for more than two years — will start filling up once again in the coming weeks.
St. Vital Centre management confirmed this week that Marshalls/HomeSense will take up about 40,000 square feet of that space with a scheduled opening in late spring and GoodLife Fitness is building a 25,000 square feet space to be open in the summer.
Kyle Waterman, the general manager of the mall — which is owned by the Ontario Pension Board and managed by Cushman & Wakefield — said there are two other undisclosed tenants lined up, one for a mid-summer opening and the other for some time in the fall.
"That will take up the lion’s share of the space (in the old Sears location)," Waterman said. 'We're pretty excited. It’s a big piece of work but it is nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel with a late spring opening for some of the tenancies."
The 2017 bankruptcy of Sears Canada, which forced the closing of about 200 stores and the termination of about 17,000 jobs, left a major hole in the Canadian retail landscape.
Considering the size of the impact it is perhaps not so surprising that it has taken this long to fill the stores. Of the four former Sears locations in Winnipeg the Polo Park location is the last one to disclose its plans for redevelopment.
Last year Peter Havens, the general manager of Polo Park, said while it’s not likely that a single tenant would take over the entire Sears space that covers two floors plus a full basement they are "working on it right now and ... expect to see some activity in the near future."
In addition to GoodLife Fitness and the Marshalls and HomeSense store that will operate out of two floors — Marshalls and HomeSense signage is expected to be going up this month — a new Dynacare laboratory and health services centre opened this week in the mall, a development that is part of that company's consolidation.
Warehouse One also recently moved to the shopping centre, adding to the fashion lineup and a new north entrance to the mall will soon be completed. Not counting the Sears space, Waterman said the mall is currently operating at about four per cent vacancy.
Although it seems like a long time to fill the large vacant chunk of a regional mall that was left by Sears, Waterman said property management must consider many factors, not just occupying the space for the sake of having a tenant.
"There is a lot of evaluation that goes into bringing a tenancy into the centre," Waterman said. "You have to toe the line between just filling a space and turning the lights on (and finding the tenant that's just right for the space). If it is not the right use and it's going to have negative ramifications for the existing tenant mix or risk that it won't be a long term success for the centre, then maybe it's not the right time to pursue it."
The re-purposing of space after the departure of large national tenants also creates new opportunities for the mall.
For instance, Waterman said the Dynacare tenancy is a perfect example of something you wouldn't have seen in a shopping centre five years ago.
"But it is a service that everyone uses," he said. "They were scattered all over the community making use of space they could find. Now they have grown and evolved their business and we know it is great service to have when you have these other (medical) offerings at a shopping centre."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.