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They have a lot in commons

Neechi shops over budget, behind schedule

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/7/2011 (3351 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The former California Fruit building at Main Street and Euclid Avenue is being renovated to become Neechi Commons, featuring aboriginal-themed shops.


The former California Fruit building at Main Street and Euclid Avenue is being renovated to become Neechi Commons, featuring aboriginal-themed shops.

The project is running behind schedule and over budget, but Neechi Foods Co-op officials say they have no regrets about opting to convert a century-old Main Street building into a new retail/office complex.

"In the end, we're all glad we went this way," said Russ Rothney, the Neechi official managing the conversion of the former California Fruit Market property at Main and Euclid Avenue into a new 31,000-square-foot retail/office complex called Neechi Commons.

Rothney said in an interview some co-op members wanted to demolish the two adjoining buildings on the property -- one was built in 1909 and the other in the 1940s or '50s -- and put up a new one. But others felt it was important to preserve them as a piece of the area's history.

"But we definitely didn't save any money going this way," Rothney said.

That's because, thanks to unforeseen complications, the redevelopment project is running eight or nine months behind schedule and $1.5 million over budget. Instead of costing $5 million and being done by February of this year, it's now expected to cost about $6.5 million and won't be finished until October or November.

When it's complete, Neechi Commons will be Winnipeg's destination for all things aboriginal -- everything from bannock to native arts and crafts.

Its tenants will include a much-expanded Neechi Foods supermarket, a Neechi-run commercial kitchen and courtyard café and about 20 retail kiosks and smaller shops.

In another nod to the area's history, the complex will also feature a large farmers market on the parking lot immediately south of the two buildings, which are now one.

Outdoor farmers markets used to be a common sight on north Main. This one will also start off as a seasonal operation, but the plan is to convert it into an all-season market within a couple of years.

Neechi officials are hoping a larger, more visible location (compared to Dufferin Avenue) and a much broader product offering will help draw shoppers from all over the city.

They're also hoping downtown workers who use Main Street as a commuter route will pop in on their way home to pick up groceries or a prepared dinner.

"We're definitely counting on the commuter traffic to give us the larger (sales) volumes we need to be able to offer a broader range of products," Rothney said, adding they're projecting Neechi's sales to increase nearly sevenfold in the first year to $4 million from the current $600,000.

While the redevelopment hasn't gone as smoothly as hoped, none of the key players seems too upset about it.

Rothney and the project's architect -- Wins Bridgman of Bridgman Collaborative Architecture -- said older buildings often have hidden problems that aren't discovered until the walls are opened up. And these walls were no exception.

The surprises included extensive mould found in the walls of a main-floor annex, a lot of water-damaged bricks on the facade and an underground structure beneath the parking lot. The annex and the bricks had to be replaced, and the structure had to be dug up and that section of the parking lot rebuilt.

But not all of the surprises were bad ones. Bridgman said when they removed the ceiling in the older building -- the one on the corner -- they uncovered three large, steel support beams that were likely salvaged from a bridge project and incorporated into the building.

He and Neechi president Louise Champagne said the beams are so striking they decided to paint them white and leave them exposed to add another interesting architectural feature to the complex.

Rothney said he's confident the co-op will find a way to pay for the cost overruns. He said it's already received $2.6 million in federal and provincial infrastructure funding and hopes to obtain another $1.5 million in capital grants from the city and some local foundations.

It also hopes to raise $1.5 million from the sale of dividend-paying investment shares in Neechi Foods Co-op. Rothney said Neechi would be the province's first co-op to offer investment shares to the public, so the plan has to be approved by the provincial superintendent of co-ops.


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