Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Curious Case of the Third-Tier

So that big Longboat Development project downtown was unveiled today. You might have already heard something about that.

200,000 square feet, a 154-room hotel, ground-level retail and restaurant space, five floors of office space, a twenty-story tower and a 450-stall parkade in a project to be built with seventy-five million dollars of private funding. So at the risk of understating the matter somewhat, I'd say, yeah, that sounds pretty good.

The design is certainly impressive-looking, and I dig its incorporation of the Mitchell-Copp facade; it gives the building a unique feature and a charming landmark quality. It does seem to instill the overall piece with something of a Las Vegas vibe, but hey, people like Las Vegas.

The caveat, of course, as cherenkov reminds us, is that the last major Stantec project downtown infamously underwent some changes between concept and execution. So it may be worth your time to temper your initial expectations accordingly.

But the one thing -- out of everything else -- the one thing that caught my imagination most out of all the coverage was this brief quote from the Paul Turenne story for the Sun, bolded for emphasis:

As a room full of big wigs was preparing to announce the [$75-million] redevelopment of nearly an entire city block of downtown Winnipeg, CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan revealed that his organization decided to draw a line in the sand in 2009, when it discovered "a third-tier discount retailer" was about to purchase the old A&B Sound building at the corner of Portage Avenue and Donald Street.

"We were not entirely sure what we were going to do with this land, but we knew it had to be purchased," McGowan said.

Now, it gives me no small measure of reassurance and satisfaction to know that CenterVenture kept as close an eye on, and was just as cheesed off about the state of, the A&B Sound building as I was. And I know I'm not known for saying the following particularly often, but good for CenterVenture; with Dollarama down the street, THE BARGAIN! SHOP kitty-corner to the property, and Money Mart just seconds away from that, allowing yet another low-yield and low-reputation company into that immediate area might have been a killshot to development in that entire stretch of downtown. Instead, the agency's snap decision to purchase the building -- the camel's back that they plucked the straw from, their reaction of "Wait, who'll move in? THE HELL THEY WILL" -- and then a couple years' worth of patience has developed into, perhaps not the final piece, but certainly one of the biggest prospective success stories that the downtown has seen in years.

(Although CenterVenture will have to make a point of publicly showing the Avenue Building project some love, here and there; that's one group of developers that probably feels a tad overshadowed and forgotten, right now, in all of this.)

If you're anything like me, though -- aren't you incredibly curious about what company McGowan is thinking of when he refers to them as a "third-tier discount retailer"? Firstly, how awful does a store have to be to qualify as a "third-tier discount retailer" by Winnipeg standards? And, secondly, how do you think the company that wanted to purchase the building and move in back in 2009 must feel right now after reading that? There's no way they wouldn't remember having offered; can't you just imagine the regional manager of Your Dollar Store With More or whoever picking up the paper tomorrow morning, reading the feature story, spitting his coffee out all over his desk, and blurting out an indignant "HEY!"?

"Third-tier discount retailer", oh man, I can't not wonder who that must have been. He'd know not to say that about any of the companies with existing presences downtown -- because yikes would that be awkward -- so we know that Giant Tiger, Zellers, Buck or Two, THE BARGAIN! SHOP, Dollarama and the soon-to-be-defunct Hangers are all considered at least second-tier discount retailers. (Going into a dollar store and things not being a dollar always kind of irks me, but I'll save that for another post.) But we can safely figure that the retailer in question has to be a major chain with considerably large presence, because an independent single-store mom-and-pop operation couldn't possibly scrounge up the kind of coin needed to buy one of the most visible commercial locations in the entire city. Is there a major retail chain built on stores that all manage to be dingier than THE BARGAIN! SHOP? Is that possible? It would be actually sort of impressive, in a dreadful sort of way.

But who could it be? Who could it be? I'm left to only wonder, but my goodness, what an interesting conceptual exercise. A "third-tier discount retailer", like everything costs exactly two dollars and thirty-nine cents with no explanation as to why, the chocolate bars are all opened and half-eaten, the roof leaks constantly whether it's raining or not, the staff all wear puce vests with a button on the front that says "THIS IS GOOD ENOUGH", and anything you purchase spontaneously combusts inside the bag the second you walk out of the store. "Third-tier discount retailer". We can only imagine.


Anonymous said...

What's below cheap new things at cheap prices? Cheap used things.

I'd be thinking Value Village/Sally Ann.. But more than likely Value Village - a big, for-profit chain.

Heck if they can snag a spot in Smart Centre Unicity, they can get a spot downtown.

One Man Committee said...

Very interesting post... I was also wondering what roused CV into action!

Anon's guess seems alarmingly plausible... if there is anything that could have been a death blow to Portage's image, it would have been a thrift store like VV.

Other possibilities that come to mind include Liquidation World or a huge pawn shop.

In any event, good on Centreventure. Maybe we need more retailers whose presence would be catastrophic to downtown Winnipeg to inquire about leasing space.

ThommyG said...

If they weren't bankrupt, I'd suggest SAAN as the mystery retailer.

re: the Longboat concept picture. Did anyone else notice that the artist replaced our crumbling ashphalt on Portage with what appears to be highly polished marble?

Sean Carney said...

Thank you for the laugh, I really needed one.

Anonymous said...

The temptation to simply raze the entire block for more surface parking must be overwhelming.

I wouldn't be surprised if they finished off the parkade, and then said, "just kidding about the tower!"

cherenkov said...

CV's foresight in this case also impresses me. Good for them!