Shindico Realty Inc. and Cadillac Fairview Corp. plan to invest $1.1 billion in transforming vacant land around CF Polo Park shopping centre in Winnipeg into a multi-tower residential development with about 3,700 rental units.
The two companies have already worked together for more than a decade developing new big-box retail stores on land they both own — the former Winnipeg Arena site — immediately north of Polo Park, said Justin Zarnowski, Shindico's general counsel, in an interview with RENX.
The master plan released by the companies shows more than a dozen mixed-use buildings between six and 12 storeys. Renderings show new parks and open spaces, with pedestrian and cycling connections centred around the iconic shopping centre, which opened in 1959 as Winnipeg’s first indoor mall.
The development is “going to have high-quality green space. We have a huge focus on the public realm because we want people who are going to live here for as long as they can," Zarnowski said.
"Part of that is having them be able to leave their apartments, feel comfortable, have great places to walk in. Go to coffee shops. Part of that landscaping is public realm as well."
Residents will be able to take full advantage of Polo Park’s status as a Winnipeg Transit hub to get downtown or to the University of Manitoba quickly, Zarnowski said.
The Polo Park construction timeline
Polo Park shoppers will see no reduction in the number of parking spaces, but many of those spaces will be in parking structures, not surface lots.
Current city regulations require 1.4 parking spaces for every apartment unit, a figure Shindico would like to see relaxed to recognize the proximity of transit.
Construction will begin first on the former Canad Inns stadium site, also owned on a 50-50 basis by both companies, which has sat vacant since the stadium’s demolition in 2010.
Winnipeg-based Shindico and Cadillac Fairview are ready to start pounding in piles as soon as the City of Winnipeg approves the rezoning application and issues the building permits, Zarnowski said. “If the city would let us, we’d start today.”
The company estimates tenants will be able to move in 18 to 24 months after construction starts and the whole project will take up to 10 years to complete.
While rental units and condos can exist in the same building, Shindico is “not a condo developer. It’s not what we do. We like selecting high-quality sites and building really good buildings that we’re going to own and manage for the long term,” Zarnowski said.
Shindico estimates it will cost about $300,000 to build each unit, financed by mortgages that will qualify for CMHC insurance.
It is still too early to forecast what the company can charge in rent per unit because of unknowns such as construction costs and conditions that may be imposed by the city, Zarnowski said.
Shindico provides local expertise
Anna Ng, senior manager, external communications for Cadillac Fairview, confirmed the two companies have been partners for more than a decade in development around Polo Park. “This development does fit with CF's vision to provide long-term cash flow to retired Ontario teachers,” she said in an email.
CF is the real estate arm of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. It is a global investor, owner, operator and developer across all major asset classes. The firm has about $42 billion in assets under management.
Zarnowski said Shindico will be the construction manager on the project. “Shindico is the boots-on-the-ground local people, who are able to make it happen for a cost-effective project.”
Shindico was established in 1975 and is one of Winnipeg's most prominent developers, operators and managers of commercial and multiresidential real estate.
Are there any other projects on the horizon for the partnership?
“Not yet,” Zarnowski said, quickly adding, “We don’t have anything formal, but we’re always looking to do things with people who know what they’re doing and Cadillac Fairview are certainly that.”
Transforming "significant urban blight"
Jino Distasio, professor of urban geography at the University of Winnipeg, welcomed the announcement.
“The proposal shows that since the closure of the hockey rink and the demolition of the stadium, anything is better than massive empty parking lots,” Distasio said. “They are taking a significant urban blight and converting them into high-density housing.
"It’s going to be a neat opportunity for Winnipeg to see something we haven’t seen before: a $1-billion project dropped into an area that is, as of today, really, really under-utilized."
Distasio gave the developers high marks for their human-scale design.
“It’s good to see they're really trying to be innovative in their design and approach to the traditional shopping mall — that’s usually stores with a sea of parking — that is going to be transformed into a sea of low-rise residential opportunities, walkability and putting the car, in some ways, second to the experience.”
Redevelopment of CF Polo Park will reignite the competitive tension with downtown Winnipeg, Distasio predicts.
“Large footprint retail in the downtown is not likely to occur again. Downtown, as a precinct, will be competing with Polo Park for the renter and also for some retail,” Distasio said.
“It’s not necessarily a perfect relationship, but it’s one that will continue to be part of Winnipeg, as it has for the last 60 years. This is pushing the level of competition to a new height. This will push downtown to be on its toes."
An earlier proposal to develop the land ran afoul of regulations that protected land around Winnipeg Richardson International Airport from development that might endanger the airport’s 24-hour status.
Michel Rosset, communications manager for the Winnipeg Airports Authority, said the authority has not seen the most recent plans, but is satisfied that changes made to the regulations last year strike the right balance between development and airport operations.