Hudson's Bay Downtown Closing 4th Floor
Image by AJ Batac

The Hudson’s Bay Company has announced that the 4th floor of the downtown Winnipeg location will close very soon as the department store retrench to the first two floors. It is interesting to note that there aren’t any men’s washrooms on the first floors so they have to keep that 4th floor open just for that purpose.

For many years now. the fate of the The Bay has been talked about and hopes were that the University of Winnipeg would ride to the rescue as it seems to have in other times. This remains a possibility but the sheer size of a building that has much space as the Richardson Building is daunting.

The closure of Zellers also meant the closing of the grocery store in the basement. By and large, aside from two floors, the Bay is empty. A lucrative parkade attached to the building is not owned by HBC which might have made development and a way to fund it possible. The lot has always been more practical than lovable in look but at 650 spaces, it is very lucrative.

Often it seems everyone wants to own parking lots rather than buildings as they generate consistent money with little effort.

The Hudson’s Bay Company has been on a bit of a roll lately even in tough times. It has bought several other department stores including Sak’s from the United States and made a profit doing so. However, tough times might be ahead if the economy is any indication. Sak’s outlet division has already announced they will be in the Seasons of Tuxedo development rather than in the downtown. Still, there may be an opportunity for Canadian retailers with a prolonged fall in the Canadian dollar.

Any redevelopment into retail, offices, classrooms or the like in the downtown space will be more expensive than other construction. There is also the fact that said development can’t happen in a vacuum. There is no unicorn out there that is going to say they want the entire space and have all the capital that they need to get the job done.

HBC sits a fairly choice spot though. Across the street is the headquarters of Investor’s Group, Liquor and Lotteries headquarters will soon be in the Medical Arts Building. Manitoba Hydro headquarters is just down the street. The Winnipeg Art Gallery, RBC Winnipeg Convention Centre, MTS Centre, hotels and the University of Winnipeg are all nearby. In short, there are a lot of attractions not to mention growing residential components coming.

Everyone talks about doing something about the HBC but there is no evidence that a working group is actually discussing the issue. Obviously, The Bay owners need to be asked what they would like for the building and determining what is possible.

Here are 25 things that could go into the The Bay downtown (not ranked in particular order):

  1. A HBC data center. The St. Louis IT offices of HBC took up 80.000 square feet. They have a data center in Toronto as well. Why not in a building they own in a central time zone?
  2. A grocery store. The basement could still be perfect for this.
  3. Home Outfitters. This is a HBC owned division that could be in the building.
  4. Saks Fifth Avenue. It is a HBC owned division.
  5. Off 5th. HBC owned discount store of Saks.
  6. Lord and Taylor. HBC owned department store.
  7. The Room. Luxury section of HBC in Toronto and Vancouver could have a version in Winnipeg.
  8. Back office functions of HBC and other divisions of the company. Winnipeg once was the head office, why not back office functions in accounting, etc?
  9. A fitness center. Despite the Y being nearby, fitness centers can occupy generally 25,000 square feet and attract a good amount of people. Eaton Center has two inside.
  10. A health food store. Going to have a fitness center, why not a store right across from it?
  11. Tim Horton’s. Why not? Shouldn’t there be one on every corner? Yes, I know there is one just outside.
  12. A Pharmacy. Doesn’t compete with other HBC lines. Could be in basement with a grocery.
  13. A bank or credit union offices.
  14. University of Winnipeg class or offices. Yes, it has been talked about before. Could still be a good idea.
  15. A CBC Broadcast Center. The old CBC offices could be sold to the University of Winnipeg and a full floor or so HBC could be the radio. TV, broadcast center. Enough parking for all employees. Only question is shipping doors for large broadcast vehicles. Could tap into infrastructure money.
  16. Provincial offices. Truth be told is that the province leases space all time.
  17. City offices: A more difficult idea if city campus plan is still in effect. But they did move police to south Portage.
  18. A regional health authority. Seems like they build new buildings every year.
  19. A medical or dental clinic. Could be a downtown quick service clinic or walk-in clinic.
  20. A Chinese food buffet. I’ve joked about this in the past but why not?
  21. A restaurant and grill sport bar. The Jets and moose are just around the corner. Should be a no brainer.
  22. A daycare. How many head offices, government offices and residents nearby? large daycare would be filled immediately.
  23. Escape rooms. They are all over town. Why not part of a floor dedicated to entertainment?
  24. A cabaret. Music, dancing, night club.
  25. Water park. Always like to throw this one in there.

This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations