‘Don’t waste this building’: Experts weigh in on the future of the Bay building downtown

WINNIPEG — The former Hudson’s Bay store in Downtown Winnipeg was the topic of conversation Thursday afternoon at a virtual summit held by Heritage Winnipeg to discuss the historic structure and its significance to the city.

The Bay closed late last year and Heritage Winnipeg is looking at what it should be used for next.

During the summit, there were several speakers that ranged from historians and architects to real estate professionals and urban planners.

Mary Rowe, who is the president and CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute, was one of the speakers during the event and said now is the time to get creative with the empty landmark and all ideas should be discussed.

“We need to think about places in unique ways and really this is about the power of place and Winnipeg is a great place,” said Rowe. “The question for you – and it’s not just about The Bay site, it’s about all sorts of sites you have in Winnipeg and in other cities across the country – are what is the potential for these to be adapted and reused in really imaginative ways? It’s part of the bones of the city, it is part of what makes us who we are.”

She added that as the world deals with the pandemic, it is an important time to address how to bring people to places, such as The Bay building, and find new ways to bring people into downtown areas that are now not relying on the business community as many are now working from home.

“We want to have downtowns that are inclusive for everyone. We want to have downtowns that engage and provide amenities and services to a diverse mix of folks.

“I think that inclusive place has to be returned but in ways that provide the kind of supports that we need so that downtowns become more complete neighbourhoods.”

Robert Eastwood, who is a retired architect, echoed a similar sentiment about the building, calling it an anchor for Winnipeg.

“The physical location of the building and its exposure is a significant advantage in re-establishing it as a major public attraction,” said Eastwood.

He said the way the building was built allows it to be very adaptable with what could come next inside whether it be something like an atrium or even apartments.

Mark Thompson Brandt is a conservation architect and urbanist and said the greenest buildings are those that already exist. He said The Bay building would be the perfect example to help lower carbon emissions.

“We need to decarbonize most existing buildings,” said Brandt. He used examples such as the Empire State Building in New York and the Distillery District in Toronto where they have preserved the buildings and turned them into green efficient buildings.

“There is not a better example in my mind for a deep green rehabilitation that would count, that would actually show on the metre of the increase in decarbonization or the decrease in the carbon emissions in a single city than (The Bay).

“You can’t miss this…don’t waste this building. It is absolutely a number one opportunity environmentally and in so many other ways.”

The Bay closed its doors in November, which was earlier than its original closing date of February 2021.

The store originally opened in 1926, and the city has created an advisory committee which will advise city council on what to do next with the space located at 450 Portage Ave.

– With files from CTV’s Charles Lefebvre and Kayla Rosen.

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