Saturday, April 08, 2006

Rideau Centre Prepares Major Expansion

Ottawa's Rideau Centre is about to proceed with a major expansion that some people hope will revitalize historic Rideau Street, which is still trying to recover from its dark days as a closed bus mall.

Viking Rideau Corporation, which owns the busy downtown shopping centre, has completed plans for the 110,000-square-foot expansion and this week filed a site-plan application for the project at City Hall. Such applications, which involve significant preparation costs, are a reliable sign that property owners are ready to go ahead with building projects.

The company isn't releasing drawings and details until its owners -- Cadillac Fairview and two private investors -- have given final sign off on the project, expected around March 6.

But Rideau Centre spokeswoman Cindy VanBuskirk said the application at City Hall includes space for 25 to 30 new stores, including a couple of large stores, and a restaurant. The expansion will involve two floors, a third mezzanine level, and an underground two-level parking garage.

The building will take place on vacant land east of the existing Rideau Centre -- bordered by Rideau Street and Nicholas Street -- that is now used as a surface parking lot, a traffic loop from Besserer Street, and the old Ogilvie department store building, which is vacant.

If all approvals come quickly, construction will start in June and the new building would be open by fall of 2008.

"It will be very architecturally interesting," said Ms. VanBuskirk.

Rideau-Vanier Councilor Georges Bedard said the Rideau Centre's expansion could have a tremendous impact on the neighbourhood, which is still trying to recover from the years when Rideau Street was dominated by an unsightly bus mall.

The bus mall was torn down in the 1990s. But the street -- once home to some of the city's most distinguished stores -- is "very ugly" because of tattoo parlours, stores that have their backs to the street and unattractive street furniture, bus stops and planters, said Mr. Bedard.

His hope is that the Rideau Centre's expansion will generate development charge money that can be used by the city to improve the landscape of the street.

As well, he hopes the company will use this project to build an attractive front and entrances to Rideau Street, creating a "livelier, more animated" place.

Mr. Bedard said he wants to see a public meeting where the plans and drawings of the project can be shown and explained to people in the ward. He noted that the building won't be very tall and so won't cause concerns about dwarfing other buildings nearby.

"The street needs some rejuvenation and some revitalization. This project, and any other improvement we may make to our existing facade, will certainly go a long way to helping that process along," said Ms. VanBuskirk. She said the whole Rideau Street area is getting renewed life with some condominium towers being built nearby. She said potential tenants are lined up to get into the Rideau Centre.

But she noted that the expansion won't be huge by shopping mall standards. The Rideau Centre is now 350,000 square feet, plus the 240,000 Sears store. "We have no intention of over-building," she said.

The Rideau Centre's expansion had been entangled for years with the much-discussed expansion of the Ottawa Congress Centre next door, with the convention space of the Congress Centre to be built over the Rideau Centre building.

But the Congress Centre decided in 2004 that design was too expensive, and the Congress Centre should build upwards on its own property. So the Rideau Centre and the Congress Centre now have separate expansion plans. The Congress Centre expansion has been mired in financing delays for years.


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