It appears that the $25 million the province committed in this month’s budget to the Bay’s shuttered Portage Avenue store is designed to preserve heritage features of the 95-year-old building, not jump-start its redevelopment.
Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox said Monday the Bay Building Fund, to administered by the Winnipeg Foundation, will be available to "support projects that will restore, preserve or maintain the heritage elements of the historic Hudson’s Bay Company building."
Specifically, money would be available for projects that would maintain heritage features, such as the limestone exterior walls, the five entrances and the curved elevator lobby. Funds could also be used for exhibits installed in the large street-level display windows or any other locations in the building that depict "the history of the Bay building or the Hudson’s Bay Company."
Cox said the province is not currently engaged in any discussions regarding development of the building, and she said that under an agreement with the company it will not become involved in building ownership.
In early October the company announced that it would closing the mammoth, 650,000-square-foot store. Pandemic restrictions that virtually eliminated customer traffic led HBC to shut the doors permanently in late November, about three months earlier than it had planned.
Private-sector developers have long cited expensive renovation costs to get the structure up to current construction-industry codes were it to be used for something other than retail. In 2019 it was designated as a heritage building, making it that much more challenging to redevelop it.
Cox said she hopes the presence of the $25-million fund would attract other investment into the building from the federal government or the private sector.
The fund will be in place until 2031, and if it is not depleted, the remaining capital will be transferred to the provincial Heritage Resources Endowment Fund.
"We hope it is not empty for another 10 years," Cox said. "We really want to trigger interest in revitalizing this beautiful, iconic building."
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.