An offer they couldn't refuse...

Monday Sep 14 2009
by Murray McNeill

Brick's move sets up chain of changes in downtown

One high-profile retailer has moved out and another is about to move into the former Athletes Wear building on Market Avenue.

Nygard International quietly closed its 10,000-square-foot Nygard Fashion World store at 145 Market Ave. last month to make way for Brick's Fine Furniture, which expects to move in within the next couple of weeks.

Nygard spokeswoman Sharon Clarke said the women's clothing giant had no intention of closing its Market Avenue store until Brick's co-owner Cynthia Brick made a convincing pitch for the space earlier this year.

Nygard officials eventually agreed to lease her the main floor of the building (about 10,000 square feet) and about 3,800 square feet on the second floor.

Brick can't believe her good fortune.

"I wanted to stay in the downtown and I looked at their space and it's gorgeous," she said in an interview. "I'm not having them change hardly anything."

Clarke said Nygard officials decided the company could afford to close the Market Avenue store because it has 12 other retail outlets in Winnipeg.

"But the main thing is that we couldn't move forward with the original vision," she said, referring to an ambitious, $80-million plan that Nygard and Winnipeg real estate developer Arni Thorsteinson had for redeveloping a large section of Market Avenue between Lily Street and Waterfront Drive.

That project, dubbed Nygard Village, would have seen covered atriums built over a one-block stretch of Market and a two-block stretch of the laneway between James Avenue and Market.

Six or seven heritage buildings within the covered malls also were to be converted to office, retail and residential space.

The April 2005 opening of the Nygard Fashion World was supposed to be the first phase of the multi-phase project. But the whole thing was contingent upon the development having a large vista opening onto Waterfront Drive, and when some of the new condo developments on Waterfront Drive prevented that from happening, the project was scrapped in 2007.

Clarke said the company still owns the six or seven buildings in the area, and plans to proceed with some kind of redevelopment project. "But it won't be on the same scale."

She declined to speculate on when the company might be ready to move on those plans.

Cynthia Brick began looking for a new location for the family's furniture store late last year after she and her husband, Fred Brick, sold their six-storey heritage building at 111 Lombard St. to a group of local investors who plan to convert it into a "green" office building. She looked at some main-floor retail space in one of the new condo developments on Waterfront Drive, but felt it would be too difficult to get furniture trucks in and out of the spot. She also looked at St. James, but couldn't get the Nygard space out of her head.

"I really wanted to stay downtown. I've been here a long time -- 40 years -- and I don't want to leave."

So she lobbied long and hard for the Nygard space, and finally got it.

Since she has the option of remaining in the Lombard Building for another six months, Brick said she'll likely operate stores at both locations for a few months until the move to the new location is completed.

"I don't want to have to rush things."

A spokesman for the new owners of the Brick's building -- Barbara Lapointe of MPN Holdings Ltd./United Equities Group -- said they're waiting until they find a lead tenant before proceeding with the multimillion-dollar redevelopment project that will see the 118,000-square-foot building upgraded to LEED Silver standards.

Lapointe said negotiations are ongoing with several "high-quality" prospective tenants, but it may be next spring before the project gets underway.


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