A new Stella’s location is opening at the Courts of St. James.

Courts of St. James towers began in the planning phases 56 years ago in 1965. Construction took place in the years that followed with a real push from 1967 to 1970 when all three towers, recreation facilities and mall were completed. In the beginning it had a Dominion Store anchoring the mall along with a bank and various restaurants.

Construction costs back then were $12-million and Lakeview and Confederation Life were the builders. The entire 9.5 acre site was a success right of the gates and Lakeview went on to repeat the mixed developed format downtown with Lakeview’s Holiday Towers and hotel attaches to the Winnipeg Convention Centre.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s a lot was happening in the St. James neighbourhood. Every street saw new housing and development. But for years, it also seemed like the bald prairie with trees took years to mature. Still, you hear fond memories for those that grew up in the area and today, you see block after block of fully spruced trees.

The green belt that follows Sturgeon Creeks was a lifesaver for many in the time of the pandemic. With Portage Avenue looking emptier than usual, it was easy to see how barren, as well as how old some store fronts were. There are renovations going on up and down the street and leasing signs popping up.

Some activity is being driven by cannabis retailers, but having a retail strip that looks like nothing has been done since the 1960s or 70s won’t do. Many empty storefronts the last number of years have meant no one was interested with either the price, the look or the size.

The level of new apartment buildings in Winnipeg has triggered older developments to put through long awaited upgrades. Courts of St. James is no different. As the pandemic dragged on, many businesses saw it as a time to get ahead of the curve. In recent weeks, the retail side of the mixed development was re-done and with a fresh paved lot. Some businesses have returned. But others are gone for good.

Legends Bar and Grill in the back of the development continues to operate. As does Dollarama.

However, the loss of Salisbury House meant there was room for something new.

It looks like the Courts of St. James has found it in Stella’s. It’s probably as much needed for Stella’s as it is for the mall. The long time restaurant was hurt from labour relations and resulted in a union which the company had no response other than shutting locations down. Sherbrook and Osborne Village, among others, permanently closed their doors. Still, locations such as Pembina, Provencher and Portage near the art gallery have proven to be lucrative.

The new Stella’s will be where the old Bank of Montreal was at Courts of St. James. This is deliberate, as the wide sidewalks lend themselves to patios. The old sidewalks were too narrow for that. It’s why nearly all the former tenants were service companies like denture clinics and law offices.

Stella’s won’t be the only restaurant opening. Red Swan Pizza has also leased a space which should be welcome to the people who live in St. James.

There are only a few spots left to lease but with high traffic volumes with restaurants roaring back from the pandemic and three sixteen floors towers behind the mall, it is hard to imagine them staying empty for long.

Meanwhile, the view across the street to Woodhave Park and the now red T-33 training aircraft representing the former Red Knights is an attractive scene.

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