How a Shopping Centre in Wetaskiwin Is Being Repurposed Amid a Changing Retail Landscape

Shopping centres across the country have been undergoing a transformation in recent years to adapt to the changing trends in consumer behaviour and that transformation has become increasingly more important for secondary malls.

The Wetaskiwin Mall, owned by Calgary-based Avenue Living Asset Management, and located just outside of Edmonton, is a perfect example of what’s happening in Canada as landlords adjust to the changing realities of the retail marketplace.

Leasing efforts and strategy are focused on repositioning the shopping centre and breathing new life into an older property.

Ben Volorney
Ben Volorney

Ben Volorney, Principal with commercial real estate firm Avison Young, which is leasing the Wetaskiwin Mall, said prospective tenants want to be part of a larger story.

“If we’re speaking to applicants, if it’s a medical user or an entertainment type user or anything really that can bring some life or bring a bit of activity back to an older mall, we typically make it about strengthening an existing community hub,” said Volorney.

“A lot of these older malls that were built in the mid-80s are at a pretty critical point in their lifespan. Some of them are successfully repositioned to have a strong medical component. Some of them have added density by way of multi-residential or a transit hub and some fade away unfortunately.

Wetaskiwin Mall sign. Photo: Wetaskiwin Mall
Wetaskiwin Mall sign. Photo: Wetaskiwin Mall

“What we want to do when we get involved in a mall is tell a bit of a story about how we’re trying to turn a corner and to almost bring a mall back to a place of relevance where it certainly can get to. But it gets there with a vision and that usually involves having groups that are like-minded find a reason and want to reposition the assets.”

Volorney said many of the older enclosed malls are being redeveloped to attract people back to the shopping centre.

For the Wetaskiwin Mall, in particular, the idea is to create a community hub with medical-related and entertainment/experiential-related tenants.

The Wetaskiwin Mall is a major regional shopping centre with exceptional exposure to Highway 2A and convenient access from the surrounding townships. The primary trade area extends north and south along Highway 2A to capture a population base just over 90,000 people. Wetaskiwin Mall is being repositioned as a retail, service, and medical destination for the trade area. Anchor tenants include Sport Chek, Scotiabank, The Brick, Giant Tiger, Alberta Health Services, and Dollarama.

“Once things start to turn the corner, we’re confident that certain gathering points will continue to thrive,” said Volorney.

“Retail has changed and we’ve seen it accelerate obviously in the last 12 months with COVID and because of that a lot of these malls are in a position now where they have to truly reinvent themselves. Footprints are changing. A lot of retailers are, I like to use the term, right sizing versus downsizing . . . But as far as these enclosed malls, some of them are kind of past the point of no return where they may need to be completely redeveloped. A lot of them if they’re well situated, if they’re central in the community already and there’s an opportunity to either add density or add something experiential or get something that brings people and gives them a reason to come there, like medical or post-secondary educational, then a lot of these malls have a lot more years added to their lifespan which is what we’re trying to do.”

Jordan Martens, Director of Commercial Asset Management with Avenue Living, said the company’s agenda at the Wetaskiwin Mall is to have a health and medical focus.

Jordan Martens
Jordan Martens

“In a perfect world we pull in family doctors, pharmacy. We’ve got AHS (Alberta Health Services) already in the mall with their home care unit. Then we double down on that and we’re getting vibes that in time we would be probably the preferred choice for unloading some stuff out of the hospital so radiology, injury and some blood work potentially,” said Martens.

“It’s great for medical because it’s got a ton of parking. Wide aisles. Big clear space. The ease of getting medical at scale, kind of a one-stop shopping.

“To be honest, every interior mall is looking for medical as a bit of a saviour. It’s become clear that the retail landscape, especially with COVID, has really changed. The pace of change has accelerated. So medical is a great solution.”

The Wetaskiwin Mall, which was built in the early 1980s, is 158,000 square feet. Avenue Living bought the mall in 2017.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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