Friday, May 31, 2013

Osborne Village Grove Restaurant

The Grove on Grosvenor
It was a safe better to say that there were quite a few a residents and non-residents of the Osborne Village who had trepidations about what would replace Papa George's restaurant. After 35 years, it is not surprising that there was concern.

The iconic corner was being eyed by a variety of business interests including many who were thinking of something besides a restaurant. I suspect had a national restaurant decided to build there that the Idle No More and Anonymous might have risen in defiance. The only reason they didn't make a bigger deal about international retailer American Apparel and Burger King moving into the area was because they would not have a place to buy their black tights or get a Baconator after a hard day of protesting.

The announcement that the owners of The Grove in River Heights will take over has probably come as a relief to some. In some ways, the three year old restaurant and pub is a blueprint for how to replace a longstanding establishment with a new concept. Tubby's Pizza had been around so long that almost anything that arrived to replace it was likely to take getting used to. It was 45 years for Tubby's and Charlie-O's and a whole lot of history including some famous stopovers by Neil Young and the Guess Who.

After three years of being around, The Grove shows some staying power and might challenge for length of time being in the River Heights neighbourhood.

The owner's of The Grove have said they won't do The Grove II in Osborne Village. I don't think I need reminding people that a former concept from River Heights called The Academy that moved to Osborne ultimately closed.

The 3000 square foot location of the new concept restaurant will need some TLC and deep pockets for renovation. By the end of it, it is likely that a million dollars will have been spent to be ready for the fall of 2013.

Far be it for me to tell the new owners how to operate their restaurant but it is likely that residents and visitors will be looking for a few things from the new kid on the block.

In no particular order:

* Very late night openings like the old concept
* A variety of small to large food offerings depending on the time of day
* A splash of neon to greet people to the restaurant and Osborne Village

I think the food can be fairly different from the old Papa George's offerings without offending the neighbourhood. To be honest, it is likely that people are looking to be tickled by something new and tasty.

If there was a few things that might make people stand up and cheer, it might be a sidewalk cafe aspect. If Second Cup across the street can set up for tables, you can better believe that a new place across the street can do the same.

You don't need a heck of a lot of space to make it work. By Second Cup, you have to squeeze by the traffic light and newspaper boxes. However, it works.

Sidewalk and patio stuff on Osborne and side street and you will have a rocking Osborne Village.

Just saying...

Friday, May 24, 2013

Whole Foods Coming to Winnipeg?

Whole Foods
There had been rumours afloat for a number of months about Whole Foods accelerating their expansion plans for Canada and now it is confirmed.

The grocery store known for organic and other good foods and with legions of fans has been on a tear financially and making loads of money. It is also expanding at the rate of 30 stores a year.

The only province so far that Whole Foods has said they are looking at beyond their stores in Ontario and B.C. is in Quebec. However, the rumour mill has been fired up quite a bit in Winnipeg that Whole Foods is looking at the Polo Park area and Seasons of Tuxedo as part of their 40 stores across Canada plan.

It is not easy to find places for stores nowadays and some U.S. retailers have been looking at margins in Canada and wondering why they have not made the move to expand faster.

In the last fives years, Winnipeg has seen a rapid change in the retail landscape and will continue to see it.

Seasons of Tuxedo had on its website that a grocery store was one of the desired elements of the development. Could it be that this is where a Whole Foods will go? Or are they waiting for the second and third phase of the development on the other side of Sterling Lyon?

In any event, if the plan for Canada is 40 stores of Whole Food nation-wide, you can get bet that the rumours may not be in fact rumours.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The New Tall Tower

Harmony Village in Barrie, Ontario
The announcement of Winnipeg's tallest building comes roughly a year after I mused about when and where the next one would come. It was suggested by a few that a pure office tower was unlikely and that the best bet would probably be a condominium complex.

There are a few apartments and condos going up in the 20 floor category throughout the city, including Heritage Landing on the Assinibone and D Condo also on the Assiniboine River.

There is a long lag between announcing and building these things as pre-sales dictate how fast. And sometimes...projects never take off. It was a few decades before One Wellington Crescent was built. The site sat with billboards announcing something was going up year after year.

In the case of Heritage Landing, actual construction by Crystal Construction is taking place now. And with D Condo, they have torn down the Dubrovnik restaurant.

As far as announcements go, the splash was quite big. Rental tents were set up for guests to see the CEOs of two large eastern based developers Fortress Read Developments and Mady Development Corporation come and say they are proceeding with a sales office and hope to build as high as 42 storeys.

The tallest buildings in the city are all at Portage and Main and average 32 to 33 storeys.

There were no models or renderings of what things might look like. The closest guess is from what Fortress has done in Toronto and Barrie, Ontario with their Harmony Village concept.

Harmony Village on Lake Simcoe
Even then though, it may not adequately portray what is coming in their Winnipeg project. You can't plan a village per se on land opposite the new Winnipeg Police headquarters. There simply is not enough room on the old Winnipeg Tribune site for multiple buildings and plaza.

Although there is talk of around $150 to $200 million or so for this building or buildings, no financing seems to be in place aside from around $1 million for a sales office. There is nothing wrong with that. A lot of places start with a sales office and nothing more. Some don't even have that. It may be a billboard and a website.

The site on Graham Avenue has stood empty when thieves in the night shuttered the Winnipeg Tribune in 1980. The inevitable demolition happened and the land has been surface parking ever since. The land is now purchased and a development plan now proposed.

Some asked why any of the news conference yesterday was news. It is a legitimate question. However, the reaction from some has been cynical and sarcastic or disbelieving. That's okay. We are familiar with that here in Winnipeg. And we have had the football pulled away at the last minute to be completely certain if something is real.

Without singling anyone out as it was more than a few people who may have mentioned or made comment on the development, here is what we heard over the last days more or less:

We once had the tallest building in Canada, then for the west, now we hope to be the biggest between Calgary and Toronto?
Worst news since the announcement of the expanded Winnipeg Convention Centre.

Carpetbaggers coming to the city with no money.

Won't fly in Winnipeg. No one wants to live where they they will be stabbed in the streets and die a cold miserable death.

Who wants to live downtown when we don't have a commuting problem like big cities?

Another terrible planning choice that turns it's back on the downtown around it.

I hate Winnipeg. It is the worst city, in the worst province in the worst country, on the worst continent on the worst planet in the worst solar system in the worst galaxy in the worst universe. I HATE YOU ALL. DIE, DIE, DIE.
 Or words to that effect.

There is not much we can do for those sour on things. Some are perfectly sound criticisms.

I look at it from this perspective: What exists on the Graham Street spot is a parking lot. It has not had a meaningful existence aside from that for 33 years. Interest is being shown by two large out of town developers who have bought said land and have stated they want to bring a 25,000 grocery store to the area as well as parkade for 350 to 400 cars, 70,000 of retail space, up to 100,000 of office and maybe 300 to 400 condos.

The two developers have done such work before. It is safe to say their goal is to get this project done within a three or four year timeframe.

In terms of city planning, I think it is probably important to make sure the future tower is connectable to the skywalk system and to the neighbourhood. The design features in terms of safety and energy efficiency should be pushed to high standards.

I am far less cynical about the development than some. While the development itself is planned, what happens to the surrounding area might be more organic.

What could the arrival of 1000 people living in the area mean? Well, it is attractive to other people who will see a grocery nearby, a Tim's, a sidewalk cafe, a used book store and so on. We might see more in fill developments happen in the area as it become more desirable.

The truth is that what a neighbourhood starts as is not how it will be forever.

I guess we'll soon see how this development unfolds but given the demographics of people downsizing large homes and other people looking for starter properties, it could work in Winnipeg. And the attraction of a mixed used property could be even more attractive.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Which Rona in Winnipeg Will Close?

In this blog a while back I indicated that Sears Canada was struggling mightily. It still is. However, after an injection of cash from their sale of some of the large leases to Nordstrom's, they will continue the struggle to emerge as viable. It is not hard to see Sear looking enviously at the Hudson Bay Company flush with cash from ending Zellers achieve profitability.

Target is breathing down all their necks as open more and more stores. Sears has indicated they could close more stores but it isn't their first option. Rumours continue to swirl over their Polo Park location. The suspicion is this is the last chance for the company to make a go of it without a major contraction or sale to someone else. The large Polo Park location is looked upon hungrily by competitors.

The latest company in Canada to talk about shutting stores down is Rona. The decision to drop or sell the big box stores of the home improvement retailer was mulled over the last weeks. The story is that quite a few of the stores including some in Winnipeg are losing money or have thin margins.

The new head of Rona says the option of closing or selling the 28 big box stores outside Quebec is off the table as a whole (The company also has 28 big box formats in Quebec). That is not to say that some unprofitable stores might not be closed. Last year the company closed 5 locations.

Looking at Winnipeg, it is not easy to see what Rona might be closed of the three big boxes. There is the Sargent location at Polo Park (once a Revy), the Panet Road location in Transcona and the Kenaston location down the street from IKEA.

What complicates this whole thing is Lowe's Home Improvement continues to add locations across Canada. They are scheduled to begin construction of a massive store on the Seasons of Tuxedo site. If there is one store in Winnipeg that will face brutal competition, it might be the Kenaston location.

Lowe's actively pursued Rona last year but Quebec enterprise politics prevented a deal from happening. Unless something dramatic happens, it is possible Rona will have to re-visit the sale or closure of some assets.

Could it be Kenaston? Could it be all of the Rona big boxes?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The B.C. Election and What it Means for Manitoba

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix in Defeat

Despite Losing Her Own Seat, B.C. Liberal Leader Christy Clark Wins
What can you can about Tuesday's Liberal majority win in the B.C. election?

Some are calling it the upset of the century in Canadian politics. Perhaps. We have seen a few reversals in fortunes over the years. To be fair to B.C. though, this was a rather stunning turn of events.

By all accounts, the NDP expected to win the provincial election. They expected to win big. Some figured it was a moral imperative that they do win against a Liberal party that was wrong, wheezing, unloved and in need of a time out.

The Liberals had so many knocks against it the last years that people started to lose count. The Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) struck down, party staffers linked to controversial political notes, the economy and a whole host of others things seemed to tag the Liberals time and time again on the chin.

The political opinion polls had given wide support to the NDP. Adrian Dix, the leader looked to be the man to takeover the premier's office and hand Liberal leader Christy Clark a devastating defeat.

So what went wrong?

Well, I don't live in B.C. and won't presume to know everything about the politics there. However, let's look at a few things.

First: It is generally a difficult task to unseat a sitting government

The government has all the advantages before the writ is dropped. It can run ads on TV for government service that promote its work. It can deliver money to various areas and be there for all the glad handing. It has a large staff, better resources, better access to funds, better access to new candidates than other parties.

In short, being in government is like a runner who is allowed a few strides out of the blocks even more the starter's gun is fired.

Second: Negative ads work

The NDP leader Adrian Dix said he was going to run a positive campaign. It failed. The Liberals hit hard and they hit mean and the NDP took a drubbing. It is a fine line to decide just how far to take things in an ad campaign. While Canadians say they don't like the ads, it is surprising how they will quote back from them when asked for an impression.

It is often thought that Jack Layton ran a positive campaign.

Remember this ad?

It was a effective and despite Ignatieff indicating that he needed to meet Canadians directly after becoming leader, it played on a carefully constructed narrative that Layton was hard at work in Ottawa.

One can imagine the attendance record of the NDP during their campaign as Tom Mulcair took over. Or of the Liberals today with Justin Trudeau taking over.

In any case, negative ads work. It is something Justin Trudeau must accept or looks like Adrian Dix in the next election.

Third: Political opinion polls can be wrong

Or at the very least cause people to change their vote, lose their interest and maybe not show up. Voter turn out was awful. Did some people assume a NDP victory and figure their vote was not needed.? Did Liberal voters get scared and run to the ballot boxes to stop an NDP victory?

Or is there something more fundamental? Are the poll callers not getting through to enough electorate? Are they routinely missing people? Is the measurement of opinion failing terribly?

Fourth: Voter turn out is imperative

Even if polls are super accurate, they can be undermined by a lazy and unmotivated voter.  Liberals got their vote out, the NDP did not.

Fifth: Don't count your chickens

A good political campaign depends on many things. Sometimes it is because your opponent slips. In B.C., the provincial Conservative struggled and had a few candidates dropped.  This kept people from considering voting for them rather than Liberals or NDP. A vote Conservative was more likely to help the NDP.

The NDP didn't know how to fight the negative campaign and looked weak when having to defend themselves.

Luck, skill and timing are important. A campaign can turn on a dime with an economic report, scandal, a debate or a perceived gamechanger.

It should be mentioned that elections rarely turn on one key policy. It is more about the the perception of what your overall focus will be rather than specific ideas.

Analysts might scratch their heads for some time with this one. We may never know what main turning point changed everything. Suffice to say, it may have been all of the above or none of the above.


So what does this mean for Manitoba?

We had our election in 2011 and although the Tories led initial polls heading into the vote, their support was spread out inefficiently. The NDP staked a claim on seat rich Winnipeg and continued to target voters with money and policies that would make Stephen Harper proud as it comes from his playbook.

Any potential Liberal threat was mitigated and despite what some once again called good policies, the thinking was that Jon Gerrard was not the man to challenge the two main parties.

For better or for worse, it is usually about the leader in provincial elections. In provincial politics in general, it is hard for people to identify their own local elected officials.

In the past Manitoba election, the decision was generally about who should leader. Hugh McFadyen just didn't connect with people. And although Greg Selinger wasn't lighting up the skies, he was the premier and it was enough to carry the day.

It obviously came down to more than that. The Progressive Conservatives caused some suspicion and lost credibility with their promise to have a longer deficit than the NDP.

The negative NDP campaign about Manitoba Hydro was something the PCs just couldn't defend against. The problem was they had no election platform to challenge the NDP where they lived and breathed on health and education.

In short, not enough contrast so that the PCs could hit hard on an issue or two favoured by Manitobans.


Lesson learned for the next Manitoba election? All the parties have to create a narrative for their campaign, the leader has to be sharp and a rapid defence initiated to every challenge. Don't be afraid to go negative but watch for over the top. Don't let the polls discourage and motivate your voters right to the last minute.

The final tally is all that matters in the end

Monday, May 13, 2013

River Heights Corydon Development

1425 Corydon Avenue
It looks like the empty space left by the Esso gas station and carwash will be filled by a two floor office building in River Heights.

Earlier this month, approval was given for a 9,600 square foot office consisting of a dentist clinic on the first floor and possible medical clinic on the second floor.

This is a fairly consistent end result when gas stations decide to close down. Academy Road transformed in the 1980s and beyond when three gas stations closed near the St. James Bridge.

Despite the fact that Corydon runs straight through River Heights, it has little commercial development until it is past River Heights Junior High. For many years the highlight was Dixon's Pharmacy at 1437 Corydon Avenue long since replaced with the Paper Gallery.

River Heights kids used to trudge in the 1970s to Dixon's and and an ice cream shop that sits more or less where the 7/Eleven is now. The ice cream shop was replaced sometime in the very early 1980s with the convenience store.

Much of the real commercial heart of River Heights has been between the rail line and the Lanark Street. An old Safeway was transformed into a multi-store building with an additional commercial building constructed later.

Across the street from Corydon Village Mall was the little restaurant that grew. In the very early 1980s, there was a Bank Of Montreal, Papa George's and a barber shop. But the real busy place in this collection of merchants was Neiman's Pharmacy.

In 1983, Papa George's was taken over by Mona Lisa Pizza. Subsequently, almost the entire building has been taken over by the restaurant and patio. The recent renovations look fabulous although many people are likely to mourn the loss of the only neon sign on Corydon in River Heights.

A two floor office building in River Heights is not likely to set hearts aflutter but it is good to point out the aging population of the neighbourhood could use dentists and medical clinics just as much as a swishy restaurant.

The re-purposing of buildings in established neighbourhoods is an interesting undertaking. The move to very large gas stations has left open space all over the city of Winnipeg where the small stations have closed. It is an evolving industry of re-building...not the least of which entails cleaning the site first.

It is interesting that the development on Corydon is choosing to put parking in the back of the building. This is a much improved decision than letting parking in the front. However, this decision came at the behest of the developer, not the city.

The proposed development to the street...and what could have been
Some would say don't allow parking at all. I understand the sentiment but unrealistic in car city Winnipeg. That doesn't mean we need to destroy the streetscape when constructing a new building. Front street parking creates large windswept lots that no one wants to walk along.

Building to the street and parking in the back is a good decision which we should see more of. I think it is much more neighbourhood friendly and gives the building far more street appeal and possibly future uses for retail and restaurant use.

It is time that City Hall started to think about all of these old gas stations and start suggesting strongly they develop along these ways.

Zachary Quinto vs. Leonard Nimoy: "The Challenge"

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Target Opening, Cabela's Opening

The old Zellers now Target at Southdale Centre on Lakewood Boulevard
This is the day that Target opens three locations in Manitoba, two in Winnipeg and one in Brandon. The first to open in Winnipeg is the Southdale Centre location and Kildonan Place. Both of these stores occupy old Zellers locations.

There are likely only a few people who will mourn Zellers. It never did live up to potential, didn't capture the population like say... Canadian Tire, never became anyone's first choice for anything really. In the end, the smart move for Hudson Bay Company was to sell off the leases and use the money to at least save HBC. And it worked if the retail sales from last quarter of 2012 are to be believed. HBC is doing much better.

Target will be a huge improvement in retailing in Winnipeg and Canada. Each store has undergone a $10 million refurbishment. The Polo Park and Grant Park future locations will likely be much more.

I think the one disappointment people will have is that prices are not going to be as low as stores in Grand Forks or Fargo. Taxes and tariffs only count for a part of what the difference is. There is logistics involved as well and far greater competition in the U.S. To be blunt, world-wide manufacturers figure to have higher margins in Canada because it is considered less competitive or of value than the U.S. market. This forces Canadian retailers to charge more.

The only way to slowly force the prices down to something we see in the U.S. is for successful retailers like Target to be in the market. The scale needed and the competitive drive will certainly help.

What Canadians don't know and probably don't care since it doesn't affect them is that the U.S. government subsidizes or runs at a loss things that help make U.S. prices lower. And by that I mean the Interstate highway system and decades long support from the federal government, subsidized airports that don't charge user fees and a post office that loses money in the billions.

Imagine how that affects prices. A company can ship a product on a federally subsidized highway, place it in the mail offering free shipping cause of the subsidized mail and it can be sent via air because of federally subsidized airports.

As mentioned, Canadian don't care that this might not be sustainable in the U.S....they just wonder how it is that clothes cost so much cheaper there.

The stagnant sales over the last few years in the U.S. have meant that U.S. retailer are casting their eyes northward. We have seen a steady stream of U.S. stores and restaurants come up and we will see a lot more.

Target is not the only one to open up this week. On Thursday, Cabela's opens up their Seasons of Tuxedo location. It is a massive store and is sure to attract people from inside and outside the city to shop there. The fact that Winnipeg is head office to the Canadian operations will pay dividends for years.

A few closures to mention. After 52 years, Gord's Ski shop has shuttered its doors. The owner indicated the Kenaston location and poor snows over two winters along with a decline in snowboarding capped the iconic company.

Curiously, Dolce Vita in Polo Park is locked up in a dispute with Cadillac Fairfew, operators of the mall. No word on their St. Vital Centre location.