Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Bay's Future

If you’ve been through the Bay in downtown Winnipeg recently and wondered what will eventually become of the store after its closure that seems inevitable, here’s a potential scenario that I can envision for the structure’s future:

Hudson's Bay Company announces the closure of their store in downtown Winnipeg. Despite recent efforts to streamline operations and attract new business with the recent conversion of the lower level to a Zellers store, the lack of profitability has forced the company to close the landmark location that has stood as a Winnipeg icon for decades. Company officials expressed deep regret over the decision, but market pressures ultimately forced their hand. The company also announced that the building would be sold and hoped that the heritage structure can be preserved.

Six months later

HKR Developments of Toronto announces an agreement in principle with Hudson's Bay Company to purchase the heritage building in downtown Winnipeg that formerly housed the Bay and Zellers store. At the press conference, representatives of HKR unveiled plans for to convert the top four floors of the building into a housing complex that would include lofts and upscale condominiums surrounding a courtyard with an Olympic size swimming pool and adjoining hot tub. HKR would maintain the skywalk access on the second level and open the first two levels up for retail shops and services that would include a small grocery store and restaurant. HKR said that the megaproject would be funded by private investors along with grants from the City of Winnipeg and the Province of Manitoba.

One month later

CentreVenture Development Corporation, an arms-length agency of the City of Winnipeg, announced its review of the plans that HKR Developments submitted for the redevelopment of the former Bay store. In an extensive interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, CentreVenture expressed its concerns over the preservation of the historic facade that faces Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard as well as the nature of the housing development. "A development such as this would not fit into the character of the downtown area," said the spokesman. In addition, CentreVenture said they would discuss further issues such as availability for low-cost and student housing and the specific nature of the retail stores that would occupy the first two floors. "We want to be sure that the mix of retail shops properly reflects the multi-cultured ethnicity that defines Winnipeg," said the spokesman. CentreVenture also wanted assurances from the developer that women and First Nations groups would be given preference in the tendering process for the proposed construction.

Two months later

After a meeting with CentreVenture's board, HKR Developments announced the termination of their agreement with Hudson's Bay Company over the purchase of the former Bay store in downtown Winnipeg, citing frustration over excessive bureaucracy and interference in the plans that would have made the redevelopment project unprofitable.

One day later

In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, the president of CentreVenture angrily denied HKR's charges and said that the developer was simply "trying to make a fast buck" at the expense of the character and heritage of the downtown. "HKR's proposal would have created an eyesore and so many groups within our vibrant core area would have been excluded that this project could not have been viable. We look forward to working with the other groups that have expressed interest in revitalizing the building."

Three years later

After consulting with a team of engineers, the City of Winnipeg applies for a demolition permit for the building that once housed the former Bay store. Long abandoned by Hudson's Bay Company after efforts to find a suitable buyer for the building and property had failed, the structure had fallen into disrepair and the City, having assumed ownership of the property for non-payment of taxes, had run out of money in its operating budget to pay for the necessary repairs to keep the building structurally sound.

Six months later

With the tendering process complete and the contractor on site to begin the demolition of the former Bay store in downtown Winnipeg, an advocacy group known as the Friends of the Bay storms the chain link fence surrounding the site and joins hands in a circle around one of the machines to stop the demolition while chanting, "Hey, hey, save the Bay". CBC Manitoba is on hand covering the Friends' story that makes national headlines.

The next day

Friends of the Bay files an injunction with the Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg to stop demolition work on the former Bay store in downtown Winnipeg, arguing "irreparable harm to the character of the city" if the demolition is allowed to proceed. A temporary halt to the demolition work is ordered by the presiding judge.

Two weeks later

Legal representatives of Friends of the Bay argue their case in favor of an injunction to stop the demolition of the former Bay store in downtown Winnipeg. The presiding judge grants the injunction pending a more extensive review of the case.

One year later

With the review process for the injunction preventing demolition of the former Bay building in downtown Winnipeg bogged down in an endless chain of bureaucracy, the northwest corner of the building collapses during the afternoon rush hour. Several people are killed, a couple of hundred are injured, and extensive damage to the exterior of One Canada Center on the north side of Portage Avenue is reported. The cloud of dust that rose from the sudden collapse could be seen as far away as Steinbach and Portage la Prairie.

The next day

After touring the ruins of the collapsed structure, the Premier of Manitoba and the Mayor of the City of Winnipeg announced at a joint press conference that a Royal Commission on the Collapse of the Bay would soon be formed to "inquire into the cause and circumstance of the collapse of the former Bay store and make recommendations as to how to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future".

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