Storekeepers and customers are worried about the future of Ottawa's Herongate Mall after redevelopment plans fell through and the mall was put up for sale.
The vacancy rate at the shopping centre sits at 40 per cent. To make matters worse, the 50,000-square-foot Convergys call centre at one end of the building closes this week, taking 800 employees and potential customers with it.
"It's going to be very bad for the business," said Nazih Ismail, who works long hours at his shawarma shop in the mall, pinched between Heron and Walkley roads in Ottawa's southeast. "We're looking for the mall to do something."
The building is currently owned by Mississauga, Ont.-based Transglobe Property Management, which bought it three years ago. The company planned to redevelop the mall by converting it into big box stores. It had just bought 1,500 apartments nearby.
"And they thought they'd buy this and improve it but…didn't realize how complicated it was," said Geoff Moore, a Thornhill, Ont.-based lawyer for the company.
Transglobe lost its financing to the recession about a year and a half ago, Moore said. Enclosed malls like Herongate don't work anymore, he added, and it's impossible to lease the space without redeveloping it.
"The stumbling block is really finding a developer that wants to invest $20 million into making this happen."
Mice, dirty washrooms reported
Meanwhile, some shopkeepers blame the mall's woes on their landlord.
Shapour Ninavaie has served coffee and muffins from his Treats franchise at Herongate for 10 years. Sales have plunged 30 per cent in the past six months, he said, and he wants to get out of his lease early, but Transglobe refuses to let him go.
He thinks his landlord is largely responsible for the mall's demise.
"We have the mouse problems, we have the fly problems, the washrooms sometimes break down and it's total chaos," he said. "The irony is we pay for the maintenance."
Louise Charette, whose husband runs a jewelry shop at the mall, said she has called Ottawa Public Health before about the bathrooms and the rodents.
City of Ottawa documents confirm that Ottawa Public Health has made multiple visits to the mall in the past year and that Ottawa Fire Services responded to complaints of blocked exits and water damage to ceilings during the same time period.
Losing mall hard for seniors
Nevertheless, some customers remain loyal and are very upset that they could soon lose their community gathering place.
Diane Lawson said her mother Gabrielle LaPrade lives at a nearby seniors' building and comes to the mall every day.
"This is her second home," Lawson said.
LaPrade, who was sitting on a bench sipping coffee and nibbling on muffins with Lawson and another one of her two daughters, said she wouldn't know what to do if the mall closed: "I think I would die."
LaPrade and her friends meet at the mall to stay cool in summer and stay warm in winter while walking and catching up with their friends or chatting with the business owners who know them by name.
Lawson said she'll pick her mother up and take her to other malls, but not all seniors have that option.
"And it's a hardship for them not to be able to go here every day. It's a really big hardship."
Google map showing location of mall
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