Friday, July 9, 2010

The Bay/Portage Avenue Part 9

We knew it was coming. There had been indications that The Bay was looking to downsize their downtown location for sometime.

It will be sad to see some elements of the store to be closed down. I once worked at the downtown Bay and had the pleasure of seeing a full store at Christmas and eating at the Paddlewheel restaurant.

The sixth floor has been vacant now for more than a year and some observers saw this past Christmas that the store was spreading merchandise over its huge floorspace. In other words, there was just too much space for the lines that The Bay presently caries.

The good news in all this is that groceteria in the basement will not be closing. At 25,000 square feet, it occupies a good chunk of space and serves a dedicated customer base that could grow with a continued commitment to see more people live downtown as we have seen in the Avenue Building. The other good news is that the Paddlewheel restaurant on the sixth floor will remain open.

The groceteria will share its space with the first downtown location of Zellers. This is a good combination as Zellers has its own merchandising and target market and it will fill the basement with product in a way that The Bay has not been able to do for some time.

In the end, The Bay and Zellers will retain the basement, first floor, second floor, the fourth floor and part of the sixth floor. I am mystified why The Bay will be keeping the fourth floor and giving up the third floor. The other floor to be vacated will be the fifth floor.

There is talk that The Bay may find new tenants for the large spaces it will be leaving. Manitoba Lotteries has been a longtime resident of the Polo Park area. I'm unaware of their office needs but they appear to occupy Empress and Arena Road locations presently and appear to look at consolidating or moving from what is largely a retail sector now.

I believe that the three levels of government should generally consider locating in central areas when making their decision on offices and by all accounts, we are seeing more evidence that they are. However, we have plenty of examples of large government offices in the suburbs from decades past. Many, such as the Manitoba Hydro location on Taylor, defied sense since they existed on poorly served transit routes that practically dictated owning a car to get there.

The other prospective tenant is the University of Winnipeg although it is hard to guess what they might have in store for the site with so much of their own new and frenetic infrastructure going up in multiple locations.

One thing is clear and that the province needs to consider the new open spaces first since they are so close to the present hub of provincial offices and agencies along Broadway.

As mentioned, planners for the city have to stop thinking about finding retail to fill large empty retail spaces. They need to think about mixed uses for some of the historic buildings. Fingers crossed that they don't wait forever to do it as in the case of the Eaton's building.

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