By Angela Westfield
Downtown Edmonton is seeing a retail revival, spearheaded by the construction of a major entertainment facility as well as new commercial and residential space. An essentially new downtown core will compliment the city’s burgeoning cultural district which is anchored by Churchill Square, which has been at the heart of the city for more than a century.
A number of major projects are attracting residential developers and new businesses, also resulting in an increase in commercial retail and office space. The new street-level ‘Valley Line’ LRT transit line will pass through the city centre along 102 Avenue, expected to be completed in 2020 with an estimated daily ridership of 30,000. The area around Churchill Square and City Hall is also seeing considerable improvements, including a new Royal Alberta Museum and a revamped library, all part of an effort to position the area as a major cultural zone. Development immediately to the east will add potentially thousands of new residents, in an area dubbed ‘The Quarters’, while the area around 104 Street continues to attract new retailers and restaurants.
Two major retail projects are currently under development in the heart of it all — one is new, and the other is a planned overhaul of an existing centre. The new retail ‘Ice District’, developed by Katz Group and One Properties (formerly 'WAM Developments') will feature retail space as well as a new hotel, office tower and residential units, joining the recently opened Rogers Place entertainment facility (home to the NHL's Edmonton Oilers) as well as a new casino. At the same time, Oxford Properties Group is making substantial improvements to its massive Edmonton City Centre shopping complex, which spans two large city blocks in the heart of the core.
The ‘Ice District'
Coinciding with the announcement that the city’s NHL hockey rink was moving downtown, Katz Group and the developer formerly named WAM Developments, now called ONE Properties, launched an ambitious redevelopment project that will include retail and other commercial space, as well as a hotel, luxury tower residences, VIP cinemas, a 50,000 square foot public square, and the tallest office tower in Canada west of Toronto. The development is located on under-utilized real estate adjacent to the city’s financial hub, which previously housed surface parking lots and low-rise commercial buildings.
The new 300,000 square foot retail space, specifically, will include a new grocery store (tenant to be revealed), a Rexall drug store, and a 15,000 square foot, 500 seat gourmet ‘food hall’ with an outdoor terrace. Over 85,000 square feet of new retail space will open in 2018, according to the developer (including the food hall) and in 2019, a further 170,000 square feet of retail space (including a two-level grocery store) will open to the public, alongside a Cineplex UltaAVX & VIP Cinemas. Lease plans also show a major Canadian sports retailer as a tenant, though that has yet to be confirmed.
Edmonton City Centre Redevelopment
Oxford Properties is also in the process of substantially improving its massive Edmonton City Centre property, with its first phase opening to the public late last year. The landlord revealed in November of 2015 that it would begin the centre’s overhaul with a new $45 million multi-tenant food hall, called ‘Elevated Food Fare’ on the third level of the centre’s east building. The conversion of the mall’s concourse (formerly housing two food courts) will add 250 parking stalls when fully completed, as well as a new 11,000 square foot Dollarama store which is expected to open in early 2018. Elevate Food Fare consolidates 26 previous offerings spread over two concourse level food courts into 11 best-in-class operators on the third floor, including major national brands as well as Alberta-based concepts such as Opa! of Greece, Burrito Libre and Press’d the Sandwich Company. It also features first-to-market vendors such as Shanghai 360 and Paramount Fine Foods — Western Canada’s 2nd location for the popular Toronto-based Middle-Eastern food concept.
The east building at Edmonton City Centre will also see the addition of a two-level Shoppers Drug Mart in early 2018, featuring grocery offerings such as fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. It will bring groceries to the area that is currently underserved, which will benefit both office workers as well as locals who are increasingly moving into new condominiums in the area.
Between now and the end of 2018, over 65 stores, or about 1/3 of the mall’s 150 retailers, will have been relocated, renovated or, in some instances, be entirely new to the centre. Oxford Properties is in talks with a number of national and international retailers that are interested in opening at Edmonton City Centre, and it will announce new retailers as permitted.
Edmonton City Centre’s western half is anchored by a 168,000 square foot Hudson’s Bay department store, and it will also see new improvements as Oxford Properties revamps the centre. A new ground-level LRT entrance between Hudson’s Bay and restaurant Riz Asian Kitchen will draw thousands of people into the centre on game night, as the passageway between the two will lead towards the new Rogers Place entertainment facility.
Oxford Properties is putting safety first, having recently invested in a security upgrade, including new cameras, to deliver the highest levels of customer safety and comfort. More people in the area will also further increase the perception of safety in the downtown core — something the area has struggled with, especially after office hours.
Edmonton City Centre’s facade, which was painted white last year, will see a new look as renovations progress. Oxford Properties will continue to make announcements as plans are finalized and centre improvements continue to progress.
Other New Developments
Manuife Place, anchored by Holt Renfrew, is expected to see changes as some existing tenants exit the property over the next several months. Landlord Manulife wouldn’t confirm what’s planned for the building’s retail podium, except to say that Holt Renfrew has extended its lease for the existing store footprint. Given the small size and current condition of the downtown Edmonton Holt Renfrew (when compared to its other larger, updated locations), it’s clear that something will happen — be it an expansion, store relocation, or Holt Renfrew eventually exiting the Edmonton market entirely.
Nearby 104 Street, between Jasper Avenue and 104 Avenue, continues to see increased foot traffic as post-entertainment patrons visit restaurants after attending Rogers Place. The same success will hopefully spill over into the retail realm, though some have struggled over the past couple of years to attract necessary shopping dollars. A Sobeys grocery store at the corner of Jasper Avenue and 104 Street closed in the latter part of 2014, and a new tenant has yet to be secured. Shoppers Drug Mart opened a store across the street last year, however, carrying a limited number of food items for locals, though not the full grocery offering to be seen at the new Edmonton City Centre Shoppers Drug Mart discussed above.
We’ll update this article in the coming months as downtown Edmonton continues to enhance its retail realm. In many respects, this is more than just a retail story -- it’s the revitalization of an urban core which, for the last couple of decades, has been in decline -- in a city where the automobile is king, and big-box retail and suburban malls continue to thrive.
*Above Ice District photos and Edmonton City Centre photos are published with landlord permission, and were supplied for this article.