Downtown Winnipeg Bay building to be transferred to Southern Chiefs' Organization for mixed-use development

Government sources say the six-storey, 655,000-square-foot Bay building in downtown Winnipeg is to be transferred to Indigenous leadership and will be used partly for affordable housing.

Official announcement with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expected Friday, sources say

The downtown Winnipeg Bay store was closed in November 2020. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Downtown Winnipeg's Hudson's Bay Co. store will be transferred to Indigenous leadership and transformed into a mixed-use development with an affordable housing component, government sources tell The Canadian Press and CBC News. 

The six-storey, 655,000-square-foot building, which closed 17 months ago, will be transferred to the Southern Chiefs' Organization, the Manitoba Indigenous organization and three levels of government are slated to announce on Friday morning.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and officials from the Bay are also expected to speak at the event.

A Manitoba government source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, says the province will contribute $10 million to the redevelopment.

The federal government is expected to make a cash commitment.

The City of Winnipeg is expected to contribute tax incentives. Sources at city hall say a proposal is expected to come before council in June.

The Bay's downtown Winnipeg store was closed in November 2020. The city and province have been working since to help find a new use for the site.

A major hurdle for any new development is the fact the building is 96 years old, has heritage elements that cannot be altered and requires extensive renovations.

The interior of the structure, for example, cannot be converted into housing easily because of a lack of natural light.

The downtown Bay opened in 1926, when the Hudson's Bay Co. was evolving beyond its fur-trading roots to become a retail giant.

It was one of the company's "original six" flagship stores and its annual Christmas displays in windows along Portage Avenue drew crowds for decades.

The Manitoba government announced a $25-million trust fund to help preserve and enhance the building last year. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

But it suffered as consumer habits shifted business away from bricks-and-mortar retail stores, especially in downtown Winnipeg. Entire sections of the store were closed off over the years as the store scaled back operations.

Last year, the Manitoba government announced a $25-million trust fund to help preserve and enhance the building. The government said the money could be used for a variety of purposes including preserving the facade, structural repairs, and historical displays.

HBC said last year it was in active discussions with a number of organizations on the site's potential future.

CentreVenture, Winnipeg's downtown development agency, did not respond to requests for comment.

With files from CBC's Bartley Kives