City committee to look at redeveloping downtown Winnipeg Hudson's Bay building

A committee struck by Mayor Brian Bowman will look at what to do with the giant Hudson's Bay building in downtown Winnipeg now that its owner is no longer using it.

600,000-square-foot historic building in city's downtown was closed by retailer at the end of November

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says he 'wouldn't rule anything out at this point' on ways to fill the former retail space. (Trevor Lyons/CBC Radio-Canada )

An advisory committee struck by Mayor Brian Bowman will look for ways to breathe a new chapter into the historic halls of the downtown Winnipeg Hudson's Bay building.

The doors of the iconic retail space were locked tight at the end of November by the Hudson's Bay Co. after years of gradually shrinking — floor by floor — the retail footprint inside.

The Bay had originally said it would shut the location down in February, but said it closed the store earlier than planned due to pandemic restrictions. 

That's left questions about what to do with the massive building at the corner of Portage Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.

"Let's have some dialogue," Bowman told reporters on Tuesday. 

"What I don't want to do is simply, you know, pull a Seinfeld and say, 'well, that's a shame, we're just going to walk away from from this location.'"

The committee will be led from the business community by Sandy Riley, the CEO of Richardson Financial Group Ltd.

The city will be represented by John Kiernan, the director of Winnipeg's planning, property and development department, and CentreVenture CEO Angela Mathieson, as well as area councillor Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry).

Economic Development Winnipeg president Dayna Spiring will chair the committee.

A senior vice-president from the Hudson's Bay company — Bruce Moore — will represent the current owner.

The committee will have its work cut out for it. The building, completed in 1926, was designed for a specific purpose no longer in vogue in downtown locations: retail.

Last year, a real estate appraisal put the building's market value at $0 and estimated it needed as much as much as $111 million in improvements to bring it up to current codes. 

The building has a heritage designation that should protect it from the wrecking ball. 

Bowman acknowledged there has been speculation and concern for years the Hudson's Bay company would cease operations in the store, leaving a challenging development exercise in its wake.

"I know that there will be, and there have been for many years, different ideas floating around. Let's canvass which ones are real, which ones have been considered by Hudson's Bay and and get some advice from this group as a first step," Bowman said.

The committee will look at possibilities for redevelopment that include residential and/or commercial use options as well as a potential as a location for cultural organizations or government offices.