Sunday, January 26, 2014

333 St. Mary Ave - Eaton Place Mall / cityplace (Pt. 2)

City Place (formerly Eaton Place), Winnipeg
Above: 2007, Below 1968 (source)

Place: Eaton Place / cityplace (Part 2) For part 1
Address: 333 St. Mary Avenue (map)
Architect: Eng And Wright (1977 - 79 redevelopment), Number Ten Architectural Group (1994 - 95 renovations).
Opened: as Eaton Place October 11, 1979

Eaton's in Winnipeg (1962)
Eaton's Downtown campus ca. 1962 (source)

The shopping habits of Canadians began to change starting in the 1950s. People moved to the suburbs, car ownership became the norm and regional shopping malls brought much of the retail selection you once only found downtown within short drive from home.

By the 1970s the once mighty T. Eaton Company's mail order sales division was in trouble. After accruing around $20 million in debt, the company decided to pull the plug in 1976.

June 18, 1976, Winnipeg Free Press

The decision left the company with about 900,000 square feet of empty space in their back yard. Their solution was to redevelop it into a new retail venture, but they were not going to fund it themselves. In 1977 they sold the the Mail Order Building, Annex building, powerhouse and parkade to Eaton Place Holdings (EPH) of Vancouver for $10.8 million. Eaton's itself had no financial stake in that company.

The half owner of the holding company was Bredero Group, Holland's largest real estate company which had a track record of large rehabilitation projects in city cores.

June 18, 1976, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1976 Vancouver firm Eng and Wright were hired to redesign the space. Their $30 million plan called for 200,000 square feet of retail on the first two floors, parking for 500 cars on the next two, a 150,000 square foot merchandise mart on the next two levels and the top three floors would be to be 300,000 square feet of office space, including a health club with an atrium roof.

The retail space was to be housed in two buildings. A smaller one adjacent to the Eaton's store connected by a skywalk and existing subway to the larger one located in the Mail Order Building.

A second, $70 million phase that included a hotel and additional office space was slated for the large surface parking lot to the west of the building. (Seen as the black shaded "Customer parking Lot" beside the bus depot in the map above.)

This was just one of a number of large-scale projects set for the downtown at the time. Others included the Portage and Main redevelopment that was to add three new towers at the famous intersection, (only one was ever built), and the relocation of the city's main library to the corner of Graham Avenue and Donald Street.

Annex Building demo, Nov. 24, 1977, Winnipeg Free Press

The first phase of the redevelopment got underway in November 1977 when demolition began on the Annex building at the rear of the Graham Avenue store. It had been home to clearance sales, the paint and wallpaper department, the automotive section and had space for special merchandise displays and small trade shows. 

During World War II the Annex was converted into the United Service Club where those serving in the military or war-related volunteer organizations could stop in and enjoy the lounge, canteen and recreational activities such as snooker.

June 27, 1979, Winnipeg Free Press

By the time interior renovations on the Mail Order Building were underway, a number of changes had been made to the original plans.

The two floors of merchandise mart, a sort of show-and-tell area for manufacturers and distributors, was absorbed into the general office space. The top floor heath club with atrium roof did not materialize. Originally, the top five floors of the building were to be glassed in but, in the end, the original window layout was kept. 

Phase two, of course, never materialized and remains a surface parking lot.

October 6, 1979, Winnipeg Free Press

The mall was christened Eaton Place and opened on October 11, 1979 to much fanfare.

It contained over 80 stores and though many of the spaces were "boutique size", they attracted "A - list" national retailers like Jack Fraser, Florsheim Shoes, Mariposa, A and A Records and Le Chateau, (see below for a full list of original tenants). Two of the original tenants, Coles Books and Metro (now Rexall) Drugs, remain. Asia Gift Shop, already a downtown fixture, came shortly after the mall opened and is also still there.

The central feature of the mall was the fountain on the main floor. It created what advertisements referred to as an "old-fashioned town square feel". In 1981 Cineplex opened Eaton Place Cinema 7, which seated an average of 80 people per theatre. It closed in 1991 and the space was eventually absorbed into the food court.

The mall underwent a major renovation in 1994 - 95. Aside from updating the decor, the unit sizes were increased to reflect the retail trend towards larger stores. (To see some early interior images, see the Winnipeg Building Index).

In 1999 Eaton Place was dealt a major blow when anchor tenant Eaton's closed. It got worse in 2003 when the store was demolished, cutting it off from the Portage Avenue portion of the skywalk system.  

Though the office tower has almost always been full with tenants like MPI, CN Rail and Veterans Affairs Canada, the retail level, particularly the second floor, was the hardest hit by the closure.

In 2001 Osmington Inc., owners of the building since 1998, wanted to rebrand in advance of the opening of what is now known as the MTS Centre on the old Eaton’s site. They held a naming contest but initially did not like the entries, especially those with the word “place”. In time, however, they went back to the entries and chose “cityplace”, (two winning entrants got gift certificates).

The opening of the MTS Centre did not have the expected economic spinoffs for the mall, especially on that second floor retail level. Two later projects, the Millennium Library and Hydro Place, caught the interest of the national real estate investment firm Huntingdon REIT. In December 2005 they purchased the former Eaton’s parkade and two large surface parking lots located to the west and north of the building. In August 2006 they paid $65 million for the building itself.

City Place

In 2008 negotiations for the lease renewal between MPI, the office tower’s major tenant and a presence there since 1980, and Huntingdon reached an impasse. At the time Huntingdon was in financial difficulty and needed to raise cash to stay afloat. Instead of a long-term lease agreement, the two instead negotiated a sale. 

In February 2009 MPI announced that it paid $80.5 million for the building and two adjacent surface parking lots.
Source: cityplace

Since that time, a new sports bar and MPI offices have opened on the second floor. In late 2011 the corporation called for expressions of interest for development on the two empty lots.

Currently, the mall is undergoing a $3 million interior renovation.

Original Eaton Place tenants, October 1979 ad:

TV ads for Eaton Place:
1989 (source: Retro Winnipeg)

cityplace homepage
Eaton's Mail Order Building Winnipeg Building Index
Some suggestions for the cityplace renos West End Dumplings
Eaton Place, cityplace Observations, Reservations, Conversations
My photos of cityplace on Flickr

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