High above Portage and Main, the 20th floor inside the Richardson Building offers sweeping panoramic views of Winnipeg — and rows of empty offices.
On a lower floor in the same skyscraper at 1 Lombard Place is recently renovated modern office space with new collaborative tables to draw employees back into work.
“It’s all about what is my experience in my office,” said Sean Kliewer, vice-president of Colliers International in Winnipeg.
Kliewer, who specializes in leasing commercial space on behalf of owners, said there are myriad reasons why employers want to maintain offices for employees to work in, including privacy and security.
But with the normalization of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said incentives have to be provided. Interior designers are adding collaborative space for employees.
Standing tables, couches, games and nap rooms are all being added to encourage people to come to work.
Kliewer said 13 per cent of the Richardson Building is currently vacant, which is in line with the overall office vacancy rate in the city. He said it’s important to note there’s been a lot of new commercial space built in Winnipeg in the last three years including at True North Square.
For example, he notes the 20th and 19th floors, which were most recently occupied by the KPMG audit firm, became empty after the company moved into new modern digs nearby at 360 Main St.
“This is the building blocks of a legitimate downtown,” he said.
David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Métis Federation, shares Kliewer’s optimism for Winnipeg’s downtown. The MMF is investing at least $50 million in the area.
“I think it’s going to come back. I think suburbia can only go so far,” Chartrand said.
The MMF is planning to convert a three-storey building at 280 Fort Street, which currently houses Yoga Public, into a luxury boutique hotel.
The MMF bought the building about a year ago and Chartrand says he hopes to have the 36-room hotel, which will include a specialty coffee shop, juice bar and bakery, open by 2025. The cost of the project is about $14 million.
“We want to make sure that when we have our visitors coming into this city of ours that if they stayed in our boutique hotel they’re going to remember that hotel. They want to come back just to be at that hotel.”
Nearby at Portage and Main, the MMF is turning the historic 1912 Bank of Montreal building into a Métis heritage centre it hopes will attract tourism.
“When they come here firstly I hope they’ll really reflect upon the history and contribution the Métis made in bringing western Canada into Confederation,” Chartrand said.
The centre will feature 1,000 books on Métis history purchased for $250,000, holograms, and a bank museum in the basement where the building’s safes and vaults are located.
Grocery store could go into the Bay
Down the street on Portage Avenue, — another historic building — the Bay — is set to be transformed into a mixed-use development with housing, a health and healing centre, a rooftop garden, restaurants, a museum and possibly a grocery store.
Lawyers are still working to finalize the deal, announced in April, said Jerry Daniels, Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization, which is set to receive the ownership of the iconic building soon.
“We want to be able to show that First Nations could be prosperous, that we can establish strong, accountable, transparent governance that are best practice-based,” said Daniels.
The project, which is slated to take 3-4 years to develop, is estimated to cost about $135 million, Daniels said. He said they have 80 per cent of the costs raised and will need to secure funding for the rest.
Back at Portage and Main, Kliewer is confident the old KPMG space, which has been sitting empty for about a year, will be rented out.
And although there is a push to turn vacant office space into residential units, he doesn’t think the building would ever undergo that transformation because it’s not “functionally obsolete” unlike 433 Main Street down the road.
The tower, which houses the federal passport office, had its 10 upper floors converted a couple of years ago into residential units while the first five floors remained as offices.
“It’s great. It’s a good news story,” he said of the conversion of office to residential space.