Thursday, February 28, 2019

Rec Room Seasons of Tuxedo Under Construction

The Rec Room restaurant and gaming center is under construction beside the Hyatt Hotel building site. It isn't where I first thought it would be. I had always presumed it to be on the north side of Sterling Lyon.

At the moment they are putting down pylons into the frozen ground for building foundation. Meanwhile the Hyatt Hotel has reached its final height and is beginning to fill in each floor.

Rec Room from Cineplex will re-write the rules on an entertainment site when it is complete and is likely to draw many young people to the area.

There are still some gaps to be filled on the south side of the Seasons of Tuxedo site but these latest developments should attract other tenants.

More of the Rec Room when it nears opening day in this year,

Friday, February 22, 2019

Home Outfitters/HBC Home to Close - Sak's Off 5th Might Close

HBC announced that Home Outfitters across Canada will close. At one time there used to be near 70 stores across Canada but that number has dropped to 37 and 700 employees. In Winnipeg in 2016, HBC converted three Home Outfitters to Hudson Bay Home and the concept was supposed to spread across Canada. Those locations were Kenaston, Regent and St. James.

It is interesting to note that the St. James location once housed Linens and Things which failed years ago taking Canada's 55 stores along with it. Sadly, it and the other two location HBC locations will be liquidated along with Home Outfitters.

Winnipeg's two major malls at Polo Park and St. Vital are still looking for the perfect fit for their former Sears stores. And more store space is being built even as companies like HBC and Sears close stores. Other retailers as well are closing across Canada including Winnipeg. More on that in another post.

It would be easy to blame Amazon as online retailing has indeed created problems. However, the simple fact is that too many stores can also hurt your business model. Companies like Disney, Lego and IKEA have fewer stores and offer experiences that stand out. They become destinations in and of themselves.

The more interesting announcement by HBC was not that Home Outfitters was closing but that they were closing 20 Sak's Off 5th stores in the U.S. and re-evaluating the whole company. HBC has so far affirmed confidence in Winnipeg's store at Outlet Collection of Winnipeg. It is unknown how profitable the store is in Seasons of Tuxedo.

The Seasons of Tuxedo is continuing to fill in with stores, entertainment and services. But it is also filling in with residents. Thousands of people now live on site. It will be interesting to see if this helps business in the area as they have a resident population within steps of the mall.

In 2019 though it would appear landlords are going to have to struggle to fill space. It could be we see some rent decreases and sub-dividing space to make it more palatable. We also might see some local concepts take off in this new landscape.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Festival du Voyageur

These pictures from the Festival du Voyageur site show Fort Gibraltar and part of the festival site. At 50 years, the festival is one of the largest and oldest festivals during winter in Canada.

Louis Riel Day is now a good addition to the celebrations in its 11th year. Many families take in the ice sculptures and maple shack, music and the fort.

Happy Louis Riel Day to everyone!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Konz: Pizza Cones Coming to Cityplace

Pizza Cones are coming to Winnipeg to the Cityplace food court. The western-based franchise Konz has 10 locations and is presently under construction in Winnipeg. The main menu item is as it sounds: pizza in the form of a cone. Various pizza recipes and toppings in a hand held cone.

The price for this delicacy is $6.99 and is likely to be gobbled up by the hockey and concert crowds. It will also be of interest to the considerable lunchtime crowds Cityplace sees every day as people move from building to building.

Expect an opening very shortly.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Netflix Review: Occupied

The one thing that Netflix has accomplished with great success is making international fare available world-wide. Long in the past this was pretty much exclusively the domain of CBC and PBS and more recently cable. Generally though, international meant from the U.K. and in English such as Coronation Street and Masterpiece Theatre.

Netflix started in Canada as a streaming service in 2010 and nine years later has become one of the biggest distributors of international fare in the country. It is a far cry from their beginnings when it was majority Hollywood and no original material. That would come slowly in 2012.  Still, Canadians were more apt to game their connection to Netflix by getting their signal from the U.S and that was for years. There was just far more in their library. It was only when Americans tried to get Netflix Canada that this stopped as the company shut it down. In 2019 Canada has the third largest library for Netflix and in some cases material U.S. Netflix clients want but can no longer get because of licensing.

Canadians watch a lot of Netflix and often look for binge worthy series. We in Canada are more likely to watch a subtitled series whereas a lot of Americans will pass it by. One series which was rarely reviewed outside of Europe but has had fans in Canada is Norway's Occupied. Two seasons are available now and a third is in production for a total of 18 so far. The creator is multi-talented Jo Nesbo, an internationally best selling author of mysteries some of which have been made into Hollywood movies.

Season 1 of  Occupied came out in 2015 and seems prescient considering today's political climate. In the year it arrived Barrack Obama was President, Britain was not in the midst of Brexit, NATO was solid and relationships across a broad range of areas seemed more stable. In the series though Norway is recovering from a rather catastrophic time with global warming which allows the Green Party to take over. The United States has turned its back on Europe and NATO and is now energy self sufficient. The Middle East is in conflict.

Norway develops a new technology based on nuclear power and the Greens make the decision to end oil production while promoting the cleaner energy to the world. Europe is suffering an energy crisis and give Russia the green light to seize Norwegian energy platforms and pipelines in a velvet mostly bloodless military invasion. The oil must flow! And all the while Russia tightens its grip on Norway.

This is the world introduced in less than half an episode and it leaves you on edge of your seat. During World War II Germany invaded and occupied Norway. There were those that fought the occupation and those that cooperated. The word Quisling originates in Norway and was the name of the prime minister who collaborated with the Germans and was executed for his crimes after. Today Quisling in any language means traitor.

And so it goes in this modern Norway. There are those who work with the Russians and those who work against.  However, it is never black and white and characters can go through various phases because the actual occupation is something that slowly envelopes Norwegian society.

Occupied has drawn attention because of how gripping it is but also how prescient. The Russian occupation in Norway looks so similar to how Russia took over Crimea in the Ukraine. However, the show was filmed and aired before this ever happened! There was real anger in the Kremlin in regards to the series of how inflammatory it was.  This has to be seen in the context of the Little Green Men who appeared in Crimea and were made out to be locals when in fact they were Russian military.

Over two seasons and 18 episodes Occupied follows an ensemble cast whom I won't name here but I will say they are as top notch as you will find in film and TV. The language ranges from Norwegian to Russian to English but is all subtitled. The show is glossy and is as good or better than any thriller, political or spy series out there. For some it might be as satisfactory or better than Homeland or Jack Ryan.

A third season is planned but Netflix has not committed to air it. Seems that few in Canada have reviewed or are even aware of how good this series in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Master's of London and Control Escape Close in Charleswood

Master's of London has ads up in the news and in their windows that the store is closing. It was the store that took over the Charleswood Department Store's site after the owner passed away after decades in business. The owners of Master's were not new to retail either. They had owned stores in other locations such as Tuxedo and Grant Park for years before moving onto Roblin Boulevard in Old Charleswood.

It is not certain why the business is closing but suffice to say that retail is tough and the right location in one place might not be the right location elsewhere. The sale continues but suspect the actual door closing could be soon.

Another Charleswood business to close is Control Escape, one of the city ubiquitous escape rooms.

If anyone was thinking that the city might be hitting maximum amount of escape rooms this was probably an indication. It did not even make a year in their location right beside the Co-Op gas.

Old Charleswood had nearly come to fully leased in the past year but now their gaps. Lowey Insurance recently took the opportunity to expand into the retail store beside it. And one chiropractor business closed only to be replaced by another.

It will be interesting to see what goes up where Master's of London is. It is awkwardly placed and may not be the best spot for a large retail or restaurant business. The time might have come to subdivide it.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Portage and Main 1978

The construction of the Concourse under Portage and Main was a massive undertaking costing tens of millions of dollars in 1978. It arrived just in time for the recession of 1980 where Winnipeg took it on the chin like no other time since the war.

The Trizec building that had just gone up sat largely empty for a few years after it was built and the additional plans for another tower and hotel evaporated. Today the tower has been re-skinned and has a Toronto Dominion logo sporting from the top. It has lost some key tenants to the True North Square but has landed news ones in the accounting and legal firms. A residential tower is going up and will continue to in 2019. By the end it will be the tallest tower in Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, the Concourse is 40 year piece of infrastructure that is falling apart above ground and below and leaks. Street crossing has been rejected but this corner now does not the meet the standards for accessibility, safety or for 24 hour access with various parts closed to public after hours.

One day it will be condemned or worse collapse.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Drop in Dance Winnipeg Open

The former location of Loewen Piano House on north Portage had sat empty for a while very close to Rae And Jerry's at 1381 Portage. This area has always been a vital commercial area marked by music stores such as St. John's and Quest as well as dog, cat and fish shops and pizza restaurants sitting side by side. It was sad to see Loewen close. The days of boutique family piano stores in the vein of J.J.H McLean seem to be on the wane.

I had seen the windows papered over some time ago and new something was coming but last night while driving to a meeting, the lights were blazing and the sign stood out as Drop In Dance. And inside a busy hive of people in studio beyond in silhouette. On a very cold February with an army of snow clearing equipment on the streets, people were dropping in and dancing.

The concept of this business is in its name. It is a place that people can drop in for classes or renting the studio for dance. And clearly people in Winnipeg love to dance. There are dance schools throughout the city and performances and competitions constantly. Many of these schools and studios are in the suburbs. It would seem that a drop in studio is just perfect for Portage Avenue being on a major route with bus service, parking and residential neighbourhoods in proximity.

On a dark and cold night in the city, Drop In Dance radiated warmth and activity. And what more could want want for Portage Avenue?

Sunday, February 3, 2019

True North Square

The True North Square continues to develop. The TDS law firm is already in place with three floors occupied and MNP accounting and Scotiabank are ready to go. Ceridian has announced they are moving their 200 payroll people into 242 Hargrave as well. This would constitute over 50 per cent leased and more coming.

The office building that lost the most at 360 Main Street (formerly Trizec but now sporting a TD Bank logo) has picked up Wellington Altus financial services, BDO accounting and IGM part of Investors Group. Taylor McCaffrey is moving to 201 Portage (former TD/Canwest building).

It means gaps in other buildings but the growth in e-commerce is filling space here and there and landlords are upgrading buildings to fit the needs of tenants looking to re-locate or expand.  The second office tower of of the True North development appears to be going through finishing touches inside.

Meanwhile, the True North Square has hosted one event for the Winnipeg Jets. First impressions are that it probably will serve for some street party and other events but will be reserved for sponsors and special events. The street parties simply have too many people and Donald Street is likely to remain most suited.

The overpasses and second floor area seem ideally in support of moving people around and supporting local tenants. While the towers do have underground parking, those coming for BellMTS events will be approaching from every direction. Everyone should keep in mind that the ground being built on has been a parking lot for decades.

The final component to the four towers built is the Sutton Place Hotel and condo complex. They will complete the True North development. The hotel itself will probably leapfrog to become the most top rated hotel in downtown Winnipeg and possibly home to visiting NHL teams when they play in the city. It will also be another support for the expanded RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre.

Once all the work is completed in next 18 months or so, it is likely we'll see a lull as Winnipeg's business community settles into their new places with some exceptions. The stalled and probably dead Skycity development sits on some choice land. The site across from the Canadian Human Rights Museum will probably also have an announcement soon.

Could this be the year the Winnipeg Jets celebrate their biggest victory on the streets and square surrounding bring tens of thousands of fans downtown? Here's hoping.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Gas Station at Portage and Main Street

1940s Portage and Main with the gas station that would occupy the space where the Richardson building is for decades. The iconic corner did not see major change until 1969.

Movie Review: The Girl in the Spider's Web

To say The Girl in the Spider's Web is related to the same book written by David Lagercrantz as a continuation of Stieg Larsson's trilogy Millennium series would be a stretch. Sure writer/director Fede Alvarez used characters from the fourth book and referenced the initial trilogy but the plotline is only very loosely based on what the book is about. Additional screenwriting by Jay Basu and Steven Knight rounded out all the writers who would eventually have a hand in bringing the story to the screen. It didn't help.

David Lagercrantz has written two books featuring characters from the original Stieg Larsson trilogy. They are NOT Stieg Larsson but were sufficiently well thought out thrillers that delved more into the history of the girl Lisbeth Salander and her relationship with journalist Mikael Blomquist. They were worthy successors in the absence of the now diseased Larsson (although it might have been interesting to see what this unpublished fourth manuscript that he wrote).

The original trilogy had been adapted by Sweden for a feature film/television broadcast and was wonderfully cast and adapted for the screen. Likewise, an American adaption by David Fincher was extremely well done and made the top 10 lists for film the year it came out. Both Sweden and the U.S. had a box office hit. The lack of any U.S. follow-up has been confounding but it may have been about not being able to get the whole cast back together at the same time for sequels. Daniel Craig, for one, had James Bond commitments that would have been harder to work around.

Rooney Mara who had played Lisbeth Salander in the American feature was ready to go again but ultimately the decision was to go with a younger cast and skip book two and three and go with a soft re-boot of the series using David Lagerantz's book The Girl in the Spider's Web. Initial casting on the award-winning Claire Foy of Netflix's The Crown seemed promising. The rest of the cast seemed capable, quite young and altogether too pretty. Even Plague was more adorable than anyone might have expected if they knew the books.

The big failure wasn't the casting though it was the writing that went off book in more ways that one. They essentially created an entirely new storyline that can only be loosely connected to Lagerantz's book or the trilogy. It seems the script is built on set action pieces that don't appear in the book and it comes at the expense of any character building. Almost all of the characters are cardboard cut-outs. There is zero chemistry between any of them!

I think a key mistake is for Lisbeth Salander's memory of her sister coming back in snippets. This is what Mikael Bloomquist's quest is. It is also in keeping with his investigative journalist profession. Salander is a cipher because any time she has tried to tell her story, it has hurt her. We get to know her by her actions. Through Blomquist's investigation of her actions, we get her back story.

The Girl in the Spider's Web was the biggest box office failure the series has ever seen. I won't go on anymore about its failures. Suffice to say that I hope that the Swedes do a version that does it justice.