Thursday, June 27, 2013

New Westin Tower for Winnipeg

Proposed design for new hotel, offices and condos
The Asper owned Creswin company has been working on the worst kept secret in the city: an office tower in the empty space beside their 201 Portage (formerly Canwest-TD building).  Like a lot of Portage and Main developments, the intent was to create more than one tower. Richardson was like that, Trizec was liked and the TD tower was like that.

Inevitably, in all of the cases mentioned, an economic cycle ended and plans for further expansion were shelved. In the case of 201 Portage though a huge gap tooth was left on Main Street where a once beloved building stood. The McIntyre building was actually town down in 1979 for a parking lot and not to support the later 1990 construction of 201 Portage Avenue in 1990 atop the CNCP telecommunications building.

A series of buildings got whacked in that block including one that used to house 13 CFRW's offices before they headed to Pembina Highway.

28 or 29 storeys
Winnipeg has not had a Westin Hotel since The Fairmont/Lombard rebranding of the Richardson-owned hotel took place. The company was looking for a way back for some time.

Filling a decades old gap 
The plan for the hotel, offices and condos is contingent on access from Main Street and the use of an alley. The hang up could be the loading docks and garbage pick-up for surrounding buildings. I have no idea how complicated that process is but if people work together this seems to be a problem where solutions can be found.

The inevitable criticisms of placing a hotel downtown and how dangerous it is and that no one will stay there seems to ignore the continued success and longevity of The Fairmont, home to visiting execs and NHL players. As far as I know, it isn't a haunt for activities that scare people off and if the restaurant and lounge activity around the place is any indication with Hy's, Brooklyn's and Baily's, there seems to be a circle of activity surrounding the area.

Please put that clock in as seen in pic
The only gap now on the street if the project goes through will be the pull-in to the hotel along Main Street. I am curious how busy it will be and whether it is problematic for pedestrians.

A certain connectivity takes place when the gap is filled. Whiskey Dix and Fox and Fiddle will no longer have the separation they do from Portage and Main. And the west side of Main can continue the vitality that seems to be taking root with Red River's Paterson GlobalFoods Institute tower beside City Hall.

The one thing that will continue to haunt Portage and Main is the lack of crossings because of the Concourse.  That discussion remains for another day.

Construction should start in August if all ducks are in a row.

This looks like a good project though as a top line hotel at the biggest business corner over a long time parking lot seems like a no brainer and a game changer for that corner.

The design of the building is a lot of glass as per usual now for such towers. The colours create some uniqueness. I am no expert on energy use or design flaws inherent in glass. All I can say is what we have paid dearly for provincial and city built facilities that used limestone cladding. Could this be another example of design issues? Anyone remember glass flying out of the Delta parkade?

Not to throw stone at glass walls...

I still like it and hope that things proceed and that all the bugs are worked out.

Welcome back Westin Hotel.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Linden Ridge Shopping Centre

Linden Ridge Shopping Centre
The Linden Ridge Shopping Centre has been one of the slowest of the retail power centers to develop along Kenaston Boulevard. Since the 1990s, it has had retail at the back end of the mall but has sat on open land while development occurred all around. It has had a few restaurants come and go and a few stores as well.

The mall will receive a considerable boost as construction nears an end to for big box retail outlets beside The Brick.

In red, for new stores

all leased
I have written to a few parties to get some information as to what will be located in the mall but so far no luck. Last time I drove past, there was no indication of what was going up either.

There is a surprising amount of room left for development for further building. Unlike its counterparts along Kenaston and McGillivary which filled up fast, this has been a piecemeal work in progress. Of course, some of the land was not accumulated till when Kleyson Trucking moved its depot in recent years. This led to redevelopment of the old truck office into Steinbach Credit Union today.

I am uncertain whether Canadian Tire purchased their spot from the developer or someone else. However, they own the land they occupy. The Brick joined the other retailers after that.

Some of the present retailers at Linden Ridge
Surrounding retailers around Linden Ridge Shopping Centre
I expect a flurry of new retail and restaurant announcements soon.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Investors Group Field: A Problem with NO Solution unless...

Investors Group Field, Southwood Gold Club just north
There is no solution for the logistical nightmare of Investors Group Field.

Blame the federal Conservative Party of Canada and the Stephen Harper government and particularly Vic Toews and Rod Bruinooge for this. When the predominantly female crowd at the Taylor Swift concert this Saturday have one very bad day getting to the venue...the heat will really rise.

Lost in all the recriminations is the fact that it was Vic Toews who rejected all other sites for the stadium in exchange for the $15 million federal dollars. The argument was he could justify it for university sports but not a CFL team. Of course it had nothing to do with it being a Conservative riding they were hoping to hold in the next election.

Anyway, let's set aside that for now. Stadium is built. By all accounts the building was accepted by fans if they actually got into it.

At the moment, there seems no way to alleviate impending doom of concerts, Friday games, university in the fall and carmageddon.

The screams will only get louder.

In short:

* It will take a lot of buses for the city to serve concert and football games. They need a clear route through for park and ride to the stadium and then out again.

* Bikes are a new aspect of concert and football attendance. They too need clear routes and enough stands to park. Even at the best of times they can be congested as it will probably take several minutes for a bike to be locked and unlocked and a group of people to enter and exit the site. Still, not a bad day if you have time and space. However, it won't be popular in snow in October or November.

* Walking. A mainstay of the old stadium. People used to park across the river and walk 30 minutes to Polo Park. People used to park in the industrial areas, the West End...all over for Canad Inn Stadium. The ability to park in neigbourhoods is limited in Fort Garry. There will be spots along Pembina. Some will become the favourites for fans. But you have to know where they are, how to get to them, be able to get to them and then have a clear way to walk to the stadium.

Bomber management and the city are left now to deal with the federal decision on the location and the provincial decision to fund that location at all costs.

It seems unlikely a solution can be found because the bottlenecks are almost too numerous to count.

As many have said, what is needed is a lot of parking nearby. 5000 spots that spread out over campus and a few thousand more spread out along Pembina are still too few.

I know University of Manitoba is loath to do but here is the solution:

Turn the entire Southwood Golf Club between Markham Road and Snow Street and University Crescent into a gravel parking lot beside the Investor's Group Field.

It is no secret that Markham Road has long been used by Victoria Hospital employees and University of Manitoba student to avoid paying for parking. Don't believe me. Look:

Markham at University Crescent...Student heaven

Markham cuts right through the old golf course.

The city and province already favour this route or something along this line as a transit corridor to the university. It is forecast that $18 million will be spent. I think that is lowballing it since major work needs to be done on Pembina to make it an effective rapid transit route. Nevertheless, the road is there now. How hard to run buses down and have a path to the stadium?

Oh my...stadium off close
Markham is already a parking lot.

Cars, cars, car as far as the eye can see on Markham
Should not the golf course between Markham and the stadium be at at least considered for temporary parking?

Look at at all that space
Look at all those cars
It seems the province and city should work together, promise the University of Manitoba other logistical solutions regarding the transit corridor will be worked on but in the mean time: Pave that golf course! Or at the very least put gravel on it.

My personal bet is that you could put thousands of cars there and runs hundreds of buses down Markham.

I realize many people might not like this idea and the University probably fears the permanence of it. It need not be that way.

I still think at some point there will be parkades across from the stadium with overpass or underpasses.

Parkade me, please!
No doubt this could serve university interests and Bomber interests but the price tag for parkades on those two lots are probably a shade under $100 million.

It is going to be hard to stick to your guns on not using the golf course when disaster repeats itself over and over.

Well, there you have it. A solution. It has its own problems but one thing is certain: The Southwood Golf Course will be developed. Why not create this temporary measure on unused property now.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Canada Safeway Sold to Sobey's

To certain, it looked like something had to change with so many food retailers crowding into the market. It will be Canada Safeway that retreats back across the border with its tail between its legs and $6 billion in its pockets with Sobey's grabbing up all their stores and concerns.

Winnipeg has a long history in Winnipeg as city was the headquarters starting from 1928. Eventually, executive offices moved to Calgary although Winnipeg continues to have as many as 40 back office people based around their Waverley offices. The old Pacific offices have long since been vacated.

I am uncertain when head office functions moved west but the 1980s were unkind to Winnipeg with recession and bruising company closures. This is when Read Canadian Superstore's WestFair Foods noisily exited decrying the NDP's payroll tax. I think Safeway slowly followed suit.

It is uncertain what will happen to office staff given that Sobey's will look to end redundancies. This is more likely to have a huge impact where Calgary has close to 600 head office staff now. The 40 staff in Winnipeg may have a better chance as back office functions for the west might best continue in a less expensive city than Calgary.

The very large distribution center of Safeway set up in 1962 and with about 80 employees is part of the sale to Sobey's. It is difficult to say what will happen there as Sobey's as massive 350,000 square foot warehouse on Inkster. However, a lot of the recent expansion there has been to supply Target with food product.

There are 10 Sobey's in Winnipeg, a Cash and Carry and other associated stores of the company. Safeway has 20+ stores. There is going to be some cross over.

Do we see store merged? Do we see some sold? Do we see some go under a new banner and marketed differently? What about Airmiles and Safeway cards? So many questions.

Safeway has been part of people's lives here for a very long time. It is not hard to see they have been struggling though and there have been pressures on staff along the way. Those pressures are likely to continue.

Sobey's has a pretty good reputation and is a Canadian owned company. Perhaps a sign of good things to come.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Scheels Superstore to Open in Columbia Mall Grand Forks

Scheels Sports
It isn't new news for those in Grand Forks, North Dakota but it might not be known by Winnipeg people who go to Columbia Mall in the U.S. The announcement really was made in 2011 and it was about the disposition of the old Target store at Columbia.

The old Target closed in 2001 in favour of the SuperTarget across the street on 32nd Avenue South. And thereafter, it has sat empty. The four screen movie theatre and Office Depot were also shut and that side of the mall became a sad reminder of how vital that area had been.

The mall built a new Sears in 2000 when the old location at the South Forks Plaza closed.

Columbia has been a favourite of Canadians since 1978 when it opened. However, the closure of the Target was a major hit. Not even the the 2005 renovation that added a 430 seat food court was enough to undo the fact that one part of the mall ended in a dead end.

For more and more people, the trip farther south to Fargo and then again to Albertville and Minneapolis too. For many people, West Acres in Fargo and the surrounding retail area has been sufficient attraction for many people to bypass Grand Forks.

Despite the attractions of a Super Walmart and a SuperTarget as well as the Grand Forks Marketplace across the street from Columbia Mall that has Kohl'sBest Buy, Lowe's Home Improvement, Ashely Furniture, Gorman's and Old Navy ... it still didn't match the heyday when Grand Forks was the destination to go for Winnipeg shoppers.

Well, the days of the empty and blocked off Target store will be coming to an end next year. In 2014, Scheel's Sports will be opening a 120,000 square foot location at Columbia. It will coincide with the closure coming at the end of their lease at their Columbia Road location across from the hospital.

The giant location of Scheels won't be the same size as Fargo's world beater 200,000 square foot  and two floor colossus but it will very big and roughly double the employees. It won't have a Ferris wheel but it is likely to have the shooting simulators plus a large selection of stock.

The arrival of Scheels's will likely kickstart the mall a great deal. Interest by movie theatre companies and other retailers will be piqued.

And a revived Columbia Mall will make more Winnipeg travellers south stick.

Now...I wonder if we can ever get Scheel's here in Winnipeg. We get excited about a 17,000 square foot sports retailer opening up. Imagine something as big as a Scheel's.

Monday, June 10, 2013

River City Sports set to Open Seasons of Tuxedo

River City Sport to locate in sport marked "grocery"
The signage is up for the three newest tenants of Seasons of Tuxedo. Structube, Fat Burger and now River City Sports have their signs up and work looks to be continuing in all.

It was reported back a few weeks ago that River City Sports was going to open a superstore at Seasons of Tuxedo and this is a very large store they are opening.  The store will be 17,000 square feet which is a substantial jump from the 3,500 square feet at their St. James Polo Park location.

River City Sports has been around since 1991 as a Winnipeg institution but it is spreading west in much the same way as old Athlete's Wear of Winnipeg once did.

A very large sports store supercenter is probably the only defence against some of the larger built stores that from Dick's and Scheel's that are opening in cities throughout the States. More on that in a post tomorrow.

McNally Robinson ensured its success when it opened a large format bookstore in Grant Park Mall.

The building of a fair sized River City Sports in Seasons of Tuxedo leaves only a few spaces in the present buildings waiting for a tenant.

The landscaping continues in the lots surrounding IKEA and Cabela's. Piles are being put down for a new building to go up. Still no obvious signs of work being done to the new Lowe's Home Improvement store.

Stay tuned for more news.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What is the Best Hotel in Winnipeg?

Fairmont Winnipeg
What is the best hotel in Winnipeg?

This is not an easy question. Every person has different needs based on price, location, amenities and personal preferences.

For example, visiting NHL teams stay at The Fairmont Hotel at Portage and Main. Why? Because it is close to the MTS Centre, offers secure floors for the teams so they have no chance of someone seeking them out and pounding on the door, is luxurious with rooms big enough for guys who might have legs sticking out the end of the bed and where a variety of food options exist.

The Fairmont does indeed do it up nicely inside and meets the classification as business hotel for the downtown. It has hosted royalty and travelling executives for years and has been one of the top hotels in the city for decades.

However, what if we are not visiting royalty or a businesses executive? What if we are coming for a Bon Jovi concert, don't have the kids and are here for a one nighter and would like downtown with maybe free parking?

This is a reason why some people book a night at Humphrey Inn on Main Street in the downtown. The proximity to the the MTS Centre, free parking, good rooms and service, free breakfast and wi-fi have attracted notice for people who might come in a few times a year for events such as concerts and games.

Sometimes people are looking for a unique or iconic experience in their hotel visit. In this case, you often hear Winnipeggers have a staycation at the Marriagi Theme Suites Hotel, the Fort Garry or the Inn at the Forks. Not surprisingly, all three have local owners and operators.

Inn at the Forks
Likewise, when people want a local hotel for a wedding. spa, staff parties or business meetings certain places always rise to the top such as The Fort Garry, Clarion, Inn at the Forks and Viscount Court not to mention some hotels chosen for their geographic locations such as Holiday Inn - Winnipeg South or Norwood Hotel.

Families in Winnipeg or coming in from out of town with a desperate need of a pool for the kids often stay at any of the Canad Inns scattered throughout the city.

The success of the Canad Inns can be succinctly defined as "cover your bases". And what are those bases? They are: regional representation across the city and province. Pools and pools good for families. Entertainment and restaurants that include bars, VLT lounges and dinner theatre. And lastly beer vendors.
Canad Inns Fort Garry
Has it worked for Canad Inns? Well, they are the biggest hotel group in the province. Think that speaks for itself.

The airport has had a flurry of hotel construction. If there has been one area that has carved out the niche of hotel district, it is this area. And since Polo Park is so close, we are seeing hotels kind of straddle the two destinations.

In the last decade or so, we have seen the construction of many hotels in the airport Polo Park area. Some are geared more to Polo Park, some to the airport, some to both. Those hotels include Greenwood Inns and Suites, Sandman HotelMainstay Suites and very new arrivals the Holiday Inn - Airport Polo Park replacing the dreadful hotel that once existed there.

The airport itself has Four Points by Sheraton and will be joined shortly by two others. Very near Polo Park we have seen Fairfield Inn and Suites go up and it will be joined by another hotel soon.

Fairfield Inn and Suites Polo Park
So what is the best hotel in Winnipeg? I don't know it is easy to answer. Price and room amenities could be anything that is important to you. A family might have no interest in the Fairmont Hotel because it has no waterslides or major mall next door. A businessman might not be interested in Canad Inns Fort Garry as he has to be downtown for a week of business seminars.

As we have seen this burst of new construction of hotels, we have seen a few retiring such as York, the Hotel (Sheraton) and Place Louis Riel gearing down. Other have faced the wrecking ball downtown and elsewhere. There is a good bet we might see a few other hotels shut down for political or business reasons.

As mentioned, Winnipeg doesn't have a motel district per se such as Grand Forks with their selection of motels adjacent to Columbia Mall. We never seem to plan these things out in Winnipeg. There used to be a number of motels stretching down Pembina Highway but they were hemmed in by the rail line and neighbourhoods of Foot Garry and Fort Richmond. Today, the remaining hotels are stretched from the Perimeter Highway to Grant Avenue.

It seems unlikely we are ever to see an area where there are six or seven motels all together in Winnipeg.

By all accounts, the hotel business in Winnipeg has fared not too bad. No evidence yet that it overbuilt. They cater to wide variety of clients and have a few income streams to help them be more diverse than just letting rooms.

In the next year or so, we will see a few new addictions vying for best Winnipeg hotel. Perhaps we might be saying the new Grand Hotel at the airport is the best or the Alt Hotel downtown. It seems fairly certain though that the debate on what is the best will continue for some time,