Shoppers who’ve had to travel to Montreal and Toronto to get their fix of higher-end merchandise from retailers such as Simons and J. Crew soon won’t have to go any farther than downtown Ottawa.
The Rideau Centre is planning a $360-million renovation (artist's rendering).
By David Sali
The Rideau Centre officially broke ground on its $360-million expansion on Thursday morning – a project that will add 230,000 square feet of retail space, a three-level underground parking garage and a “premium” dining hall with seating for 850 people to the 30-year-old mall.
In addition to Simons and New York-based J. Crew, other high-end chains that have confirmed they will be part of the expanded shopping centre include Nordstrom and lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret.
Mall owner Cadillac Fairview, whose stable of shopping centres also includes Toronto’s Eaton Centre, said the Ottawa market is ready for an influx of higher-end outlets.
“We have 22 million people coming through Rideau Centre (each year) and we’re just going to keep growing that as the renovation and expansion goes through and it’s going to continue to grow after that,” said Sal Iacono, senior vice-president, development and portfolio management at Cadillac Fairview.
“We’re absolutely confident in what we’re doing. We’re seeing a very strong trend in downtown living in Ottawa, and we believe that as in many other urban centres in Canada, that that’s going to be a strong and growing trend. So Rideau Centre will not just cater to its existing clientele, but we’ll be serving the needs of a growing downtown population in Ottawa.”
As part of the project, the mall will also undergo a complete makeover, including new quartz flooring, enhanced lighting and renovated washrooms.
The food court – renamed the “dining hall” – will be moved from the first to the second level and expanded to 35,000 square feet. There will be 16 “premium-branded” eating establishments and six new retailers nearby.
The building’s exterior facade will be revamped and a new entrance will be added at the corner of Nicholas Street and Daly Avenue. The mall will also have two direct access points to the LRT’s Rideau Station.
Cadillac Fairview said construction should be complete by the fall of 2016, and the mall will remain open during the expansion. Mr. Iacono said he couldn’t estimate how many jobs the project will create.
Quebec-based Simons will anchor the expansion site at the corner of Rideau and Nicholas streets with a two-level, 100,000-square-foot store – the first in the province for the middle- to high-end clothing chain.
The capital’s location next door to Quebec should give it a leg up in a competitive market, company president Peter Simons said.
“We have a lot of people who know about our brand here in the Ottawa market, I think, just from the flow of people from Ontario and Quebec back and forth,” he said. “That’s a big starting point for any retailer coming into the market.”
As a small, privately owned chain with just eight locations, Simons knows it will face tough competition from the likes of U.S. giant Nordstrom, which is opening a 157,000-square-foot store on the upper two levels of the former Sears in March 2015.
The company is hiring Canadian artists to help give its Rideau Centre store a distinctive look and feel, Mr. Simons said – all part of what he hopes will separate it from the competition.
“You’re going to know you’re in Ottawa. It’s going to be unique,” he said. “We’re in the process of trying to build a more national brand. We’ve got to win you over with great merchandise and a great experience – from the architecture to the art to the merchandise to the people.”
The Rideau Centre expansion is one of a number of major projects that are putting a new face on Ottawa’s shopping scene.
Analyst Barry Nabatian of Shore Tanner & Associates said recently the sudden upswing in retail construction in Ottawa makes sense, especially because the city has a comparative lack of stores that cater to higher-end clientele.
Mayor Jim Watson agreed.
“When you put (the Rideau Centre project) together with the expansion of places like Bayshore, the Tanger outlet mall that is under construction in Kanata, you see there’s a pattern of confidence in the local economy here, and it’s great news for the city,” Mr. Watson said.
“These businesses like Cadillac Fairview know their markets, and they see Ottawa as a growing city. I feel very confident that this retail spurt that we’re seeing in all parts of the city is going to be well sustained by both residents and the tourists that we attract here.”