Manitoba’s $25M for The Bay building focused on preserving historic landmark rather than redeveloping it

Manitoba’s $25 million pledge to revitalize a downtown Winnipeg retail landmark will focus on restoring the historic building, rather than redeveloping a mammoth building that is cost-prohibitive for many prospective owners or tenants.

The provincial government offered new details Monday of one of the biggest surprises of its 2021 budget: the establishment of a $25 million trust fund for The Bay’s former home in downtown Winnipeg.

The Bay permanently closed its retail outlet last fall. The department store chain had been a fixture at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard since 1926.

Monday’s news release suggested the money could help with restoring heritage elements of the building, completing capital repairs and installing art exhibits to replace the boarded-up windows along the main floor, with depictions of the history of The Bay building or the Hudson Bay Company.

Heritage Minister Cathy Cox said the government, however, is not involved in any discussions with private companies that may want to take over the boarded-up building.

“We, in fact, have had no discussions with any possible proponents of what type of projects they plan to host in this building,” she said at a news conference.

The Bay’s long-time location at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard closed for good last fall, due to “shifting consumer behaviour.” (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The building remains in the hands of The Hudson’s Bay Company. The Progressive Conservative government is encouraging the owner to invite the private sector, and perhaps other levels of government, to chip in, Cox said.

“We don’t have any influence on what type of project The Bay building might have potentially in the future,” she said

Any redevelopment opportunity for the massive 655,755 sq. ft. building comes with a hefty price tag. 

A 2019 appraisal valued the building’s worth at $0, if not less due to the millions of costs associated with its sale and the $111 million in estimated renovations to bring it up to code.

The trust fund will be set aside for 10 years. Any remaining amount would be transferred into a heritage endowment fund to support other provincial and municipal buildings, Cox said.

By then, the heritage building hopes the building is serving new purposes. She isn’t contemplating a scenario where the building remains vacant.

“We certainly hope not, and that’s the reason for this investment,” she said. “We really want to trigger some interest in revitalizating this beautiful, iconic building.”

The Bay Building Fund will be held in trust by The Winnipeg Foundation.

The funding can only be accessed by the building owner. The terms of the government’s trust fund says the provincial government cannot assume ownership of the building.

Private sector should take over: Cox

“We feel that giving the private sector, or the Hudson’s Bay Company, the opportunity to move forward with new projects is the most beneficial way to see this area of the city revitalized,” Cox said.

A government document says the $25 million fund can protect several aspects of the six-storey structure, which the Portage Avenue landmark was added to the city’s list of historic resources in 2019.

Those elements include the limestone exterior walls, the outside canopy, the curved elevator lobby and other aspects of the interior.

The City of Winnipeg has so far stopped short of committing municipal funding, but has struck a committee to explore options for the former department store.

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