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Bay closure heads up changing future of Winnipeg’s downtown

Click to play video 'Downtown Winnipeg still has momentum despite closures, delays' Downtown Winnipeg still has momentum despite closures, delays
Even with the closure of The Bay, and a delayed Portage Place deal, both the commercial and residential sectors think the future of Downtown Winnipeg is strong. Malika Karim reports – Dec 1, 2020

Discussions are already underway to determine the fate of the iconic Hudson’s Bay store in downtown Winnipeg.

The company made the decision to close the 94-year-old landmark unexpectedly early — a decision made in part due to Manitoba’s pandemic restrictions on non-essential shopping.

Despite the sudden closure, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ says there’s already work being done behind the scenes to look for a suitable tenant or tenants for the building at Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a timeline of when we need to figure this out by, but we do know from HBC that they do want to work with the city to find the right opportunity,” said BIZ exec Kate Fenske.

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“I think that’s really promising as we look forward and figure out what is the best fit for our downtown.”

Read more: Downtown Winnipeg’s iconic Hudson’s Bay store closed for good as of Monday, company says

Fenske told 680 CJOB the building could be redeveloped into a residential complex, but regardless of what happens, maintaining The Bay’s heritage status and ensuring it’s a good fit for downtown are top priorities.

The Hudson’s Bay Company first opened the downtown Winnipeg store to shoppers in 1926 and the building received a heritage designation from the city in 2019.

“It’s really important that we do look at all options. We know The Bay does have heritage status and it’s really important to keep what’s such an iconic building a part of our downtown,” she said.

“But we do have to also shift and change with the times in figuring out what is the best use for it.”

Click to play video 'The Bay in downtown Winnipeg closes for good' The Bay in downtown Winnipeg closes for good
The Bay in downtown Winnipeg closes for good – Nov 30, 2020

The Bay may not be the only downtown fixture with an uncertain future. The long-in-the-works development at Portage Place — which was set to see the beleaguered mall made over into a mixed-use site with rental suites, community spaces, a pedestrian walkway and a downtown grocery store — appears to have hit a snag.

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In an email to 680 CJOB, a representative of Starlight Investments, the Toronto-based developer, said the company has received an extension on the project.

“We can confirm that we have applied for and received an extension,” said Starlight’s Marni Larkin.

“Discussions are ongoing with multiple levels of government and we are excited to be working with them on the redevelopment of Portage Place and downtown Winnipeg.”

Read more: Winnipeg councillors divided over ‘atrocious’ last-minute Portage Place deal

Despite these uncertainties, along with other concerns for business owners as the pandemic continues, a new report issued by the Downtown BIZ suggests there’s reason for optimism for the district going forward.

The 2020 Downtown Snapshot, which looks into the area’s employment, development, demographics, and more, says there have been 19 new downtown businesses that opened up this year, as well as an estimated $1 billion in new capital projects underway.

“There’s a long road ahead and we know it’s difficult, but if we look even just one or two years out, there are major investments still underway that will grow our downtown and keep the economic engine going,” Fenske said.

“The snapshot helps us understand where we are at and where the opportunities are so we can set measurable, data-based goals for the future.”

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Click to play video 'The Bay in downtown Winnipeg closing' The Bay in downtown Winnipeg closing
The Bay in downtown Winnipeg closing – Oct 2, 2020