East-end mall shopping for tenants

Mark Brownlee
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Ottawa’s shopping centres have been filling up newspaper pages over the past few years.

Place d'Orleans is located in Ottawa's east-end.

Bayshore turned heads in 2012 with its plan to spend $200 million on an expansion, while the Rideau Centre broke ground on a $360-million plan last fall. The new development at Lansdowne Park, meanwhile, generated lots of debate when the initial lineup of stores was named earlier this year.

One shopping centre continues to rest conspicuously out of that spotlight.

However, a new general manager at Place d’Orleans is hoping a plan to change the mall’s tenant mix will alter that dynamic. While other retail centres around the city are bringing in high-end stores, the mall is focusing on how it can be more appealing to east-end shoppers.

“What we’re lacking is a real sort of definition of who we are,” said Curtis Fortowsky, who took over the position earlier this year.

“And I think by doing this what we can do is we can certainly strengthen our image and I think we can become much more competitive in the marketplace and just provide a better shopping experience to our community.”

The 761,269-square-foot shopping centre, tucked away in Orleans just off Hwy. 174, currently has a 20-per-cent vacancy rate – about five percentage points higher than what Mr. Fortowsky would like to see.

The shopping centre was able to make some progress on that recently, with the announcement that popular Swedish retailer H&M would be opening a new store there this fall. However, officials at Place d’Orleans are currently “talking to everybody” in an effort to bring in new tenants, he said.

He’s also taking a glass-half-full approach to the stores that are currently empty. Mr. Fortowsky said this gives the shopping centre “swing space” that it can use to move tenants around until he finds the right mix.

But Place d’Orleans is fighting a bigger battle than just trying to attract new tenants, according to Barry Nabatian, an analyst with real estate research firm Shore Tanner & Associates.

Part of the problem, he said, is that his research shows it’s losing shopping dollars to other parts of the city.

He pointed out that a large portion of the suburb’s residents work in places like downtown and Kanata, meaning they also establish shopping habits there. As a result, Place d’Orleans has seen business migrate to western parts of the city.

Mr. Nabatian said it’s essential that the shopping centre find more trendy specialty stores, such as those that are found in other malls in the city.

He pointed to Forever 21 and lululemon, both of which he said have made the Rideau Centre a popular destination, as an example of the sort of store that would draw shoppers back to Orleans.

“They have got to be very aggressive because it’s a very competitive market,” said Mr. Nabatian.

Mr. Fortowsky is taking a more measured approach to chasing after new customers.

He said he doesn’t expect to land a marquee tenant that customers won’t be able to find elsewhere in the city.

“We know we’re not going to stop (Orleans residents) from going to the Nordstrom, etc.; they’re going to make that trip anyway,” he said, referring to the luxury department store that will open 157,000 square feet of space at the Rideau Centre in 2015.

“However, we can hopefully reduce the frequency and say, you know what, we have enough offerings here that we may reduce that number of trips by one a year; that’s all we try to do.”

In the meantime, the shopping centre will continue to follow through on its plan for attracting new tenants. Mr. Fortowsky said he expects to start making some announcements this summer.

The shopping centre will also start doing some minor renovations over a three- to six-year period.

Still, there will be a limit to the amount of change shoppers can expect: Mr. Fortowsky said he doesn’t see any expansion on the horizon for Place d’Orleans.

Place d’Orleans profile

Gross leasable space: 761,269 square feet

Year opened: 1979

Leasing company/agent: Primaris, Paul Crane

Parking spaces: 3,727

Major tenants: Target, the Bay, Sport Chek, RCMP, Goodlife Fitness.

Source: 2013 OBJ Book of Lists

Organizations: Rideau Centre, Shore Tanner Associates, RCMP

Geographic location: Orleans, Lansdowne Park, Hwy

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