Saturday, September 5, 2009

303 Portage Avenue - Mountain Equipment Co-op

Project: Mountain Equipment Co-op (Website)
303 Portage Avenue
Status: Completed 2002
Prairie Architects
30,246 square feet

Cost: $ 3m


The northeast corner of Portage and Donald has always boasted a strong retail component. Until the 1970's the block housed
Genser's Furniture, one of the largest furniture stores in Western Canada. When Genser's closed the subdivided space was often filled with national retail outlets, fast food restaurants and even rehearsal space for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The Capitol Theatre around the corner was a source of constant foot traffic.

click for source
Beginning in the late 1980s the block was dealt a series of blows. The opening of Portage Place saw many of the national tenants in the Genser's building head for the mall. In 1990 the Capitol closed. The two businesses on the now-MEC site, Family Hamburger House and Shoppers Drug Mart, also closed - the latter moving a few metres east to a new structure. The three buildings at the corner were now vacant.

Mayor Susan Thompson publicly complained about the city's frustration dealing with the owners to keep the vacant properties maintained or make improvements. In 1995 the city had to step in and spend $15,000 to board them up. (WFP Aug 30,1995). The buildings would remain derelict for another half-decade.

In 2001, the Vancouver-based Mountain Equipment Co-op announced that they had chosen the Portage and Donald site for their Winnipeg retail location. This would be no ordinary development, though. MEC was known for it's
corporate values of sustainability and environmentally-friendly building practices and wanted to keep as much of the existing buildings as possible.

A series of green practices, from a green roof to the composting toilets and the reclamation of 95% of the existing building materials, won the building numerous awards including
a 2003 Canada Energy Efficiency Award. The award profile said of MEC's Winnipeg outlet:

"Industry analysts consider it the most energy-efficient commercial outlet ever built in Canada and one of most environmentally friendly in the world. The building is currently being considered as one of three highest-rated LEED Platinum buildings in North America".

Profile of Mountain Equipment Co-op The Canadian Encyclopedia
MEC Open for Business in Winnipeg MEC News Release 30 May 2002
Photo Gallery MEC Winnipeg University of Waterloo
Green Building Activities in Canada Report CMHC
Sustainable Building Design Case Study University of Waterloo

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