WINNIPEG - As HBC plans to close its downtown Winnipeg location, the retailer has decided to enter the real estate and development business with a new division to repurpose its empty buildings. The Hudson’s Bay Company has announced it will close the 94-year-old iconic department store for good in February of 2021, but says it has now established HBC Properties and Investments, which includes Streetworks Development, a new division focusing on trying to increase the value of their North American property holdings, which total 40 million sq. ft.
The decision to shutter their doors in downtown Winnipeg had been expected for a long time, after many departments were closed or condensed over the years. Four floors of the building’s six were eventually left unoccupied, with the company having a hard time finding tenants to fill them. The Paddlewheel Restaurant, at the top floor, closed in January 2013. In 2010 its basement had been converted into a Zellers store, a discount department retailer, but the brand was plagued by fierce competition, and was liquidated and closed across Canada by March 2013. Retailers also faced significant losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and financial sustainability was a factor that contributed to HBC’s recent decisions to close stores in both downtown Winnipeg and Edmonton.
An appraisal in November of 2019 said the Winnipeg building was worth $0.00 considering the cost of renovation, but City Council had voted to give the building historical status just eight months prior to that assessment. That protection constrains any future tenant to preserve its historic and cultural characteristics. The company says Winnipeg remains a valuable market for the company, and was working to partner with municipal and business leaders to repurpose the 600,000 square foot building.
With HBC’s real estate division now in place, the company plans to diversify their revenue streams by modernizing the locations it currently owns like the one downtown, with plans to create mixed-use properties that would offer office housing, retail, and entertainment space.
HBC came to Canada 350 years ago, then called “Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson's Bay,” and while its downtown Winnipeg store was built in 1926, the company set up its first sales shop here in 1881, nearly 140 years ago, at the corner of Main Street and York Avenue. Technically a British company for 300 years, Winnipeg hosted their first Canadian headquarters for four years before they moved to Toronto in 1974, and Brampton, Ontario in 1998.
That roof looks interesting. I bet it has quite a view from up there. Why not have the windows for apartments and indoor space for offices? Or homeless shelters. Nobody would mind living without a window if they've been living outside in frigid weather. You could house hundreds in that building. Maybe even thousands if efficiently designed. Oh wait....this is city government. Scratch that. They'd rather pour $100,000 into a single living unit to get it up to the newest building code imaginable. Meanwhile thousands are homeless and dying from their addictions.
What do you think?