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Primaris to demolish portion of Windsor's Devonshire Mall

REIT to open up 18.5 acres of land for redevelopment by taking down former Sears store

The Devonshire Mall in Windsor, which at over 870,000 square feet is the largest enclosed shopping centre in Ontario outside of the Greater Toronto Area. (Google Maps)
The Devonshire Mall in Windsor, which at over 874,000 square feet is the largest enclosed shopping centre in Ontario outside of the Greater Toronto Area. (Google Maps)

A long-vacant former Sears store at Primaris REIT's Devonshire Mall in Windsor will soon be demolished as part of a redevelopment that will open up land for future uses.

The space, which has a basement and two floors above ground, has remained largely vacant since Sears closed in early 2018. It was temporarily used by Spirit Halloween as a pop-up outlet and served as a COVID-19 vaccination clinic for 10 months beginning in June 2021.

The removal of the Sears building will free up 18.5 acres and create an opportunity to reconfigure the outside entrance at that end of the mall.

“The cost of restoring it to modern environmental and safety standards was very high,” Primaris REIT chief executive officer Alex Avery told RENX. “So we thought rather than spending a lot of money trying to repurpose that, we would do what's right for the mall and create a new high-impact entrance like we have in other parts of the mall.”

Primaris took ownership of Devonshire Mall at the end of 2021 as part of its $800-million acquisition of six shopping centres and two related properties from Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan.

Plans for Devonshire Mall

Avery said Primaris is in advanced discussions with a number of leading national retailers for two end cap stores that will be located on either side of the new Devonshire Mall entrance. They’ll combine for approximately 50,000 square feet of space and will be accessible from both the interior and exterior.

With a gross leasable area of 874,500 square feet, Devonshire Mall is the largest enclosed shopping centre in Ontario outside of the Greater Toronto Area. The 160-store mall, which was built in 1970 and renovated in 2018, also offers 5,404 parking stalls at its 3100 Howard Ave. location.

As of January, Devonshire Mall had a 12-month rolling sales average of $687 per square foot. 

Avery said the mall has been performing well and its prospects should further improve with Windsor’s population growth and the benefits it will receive upon the completion of a Stellantis/LG Energy Solution electric vehicle battery manufacturing facility that’s expected to create 2,500 new jobs, the Gordie Howe International Bridge that will provide another connection to Detroit, Mich., and a large new hospital.

Tenant interest in Devonshire Mall

“We have a lot of very keen interest from new-to-market retailers,” Avery said.

New tenants confirmed to locate in Devonshire Mall later this year are: 

  • The Canadian Brewhouse, which will move into the former Buffalo Wild Wings outlet that closed in 2023;
  • home goods, cosmetics and accessories retailer Miniso, which will be in the former food court area;
  • and Korean-American fusion restaurant Today Cafe, which will open in the food court.

“We haven't nailed down exactly what we're going to do with the 18 acres, but there is a tremendous amount of flexibility and potential at that end of the property,” Avery noted. “In speaking with the city, they're quite keen to see the potential for residential to be added to the site.”

Acquisitions, dispositions are in the works

Primaris is Canada’s only enclosed shopping centre-focused real estate investment trust, with a 39-property portfolio totalling about 12.5 million square feet and valued at approximately $3.8 billion (at its share) as of Feb. 14, when it issued its 2023 year-end financial results. 

The Bank of Canada hasn’t yet reduced interest rates, which has presented challenging conditions for property transactions overall. But Primaris had a relatively low debt-to-asset ratio of 38.3 per cent and $654.3 million in liquidity at the end of last year and is well-positioned to take advantage of market opportunities.

Avery said the trust is advancing discussions regarding both acquisitions and dispositions.

“The properties that we're selling are much, much smaller properties — strip centres, excess land parcels and things like that — and that market hasn't been as impacted by market illiquidity,” Avery said.

Residential intensification opportunities

The excess lands Primaris owns include four acres north of Toronto’s Dufferin Mall, just south of Bloor Street. The fully entitled, zoned and severed site is close to the Dufferin subway station and can support 1,300 residential units.

“On a regular basis we have people approaching us about acquiring the four acres,” said Avery. “We've had similar interest on acquiring the whole property, including the mall. 

“We're still working our way through what Dufferin Mall will look like in 20 years. What is very clear is that you've got 21 acres of land sitting adjacent to a subway station in central Toronto. 

“Look at something like The Well that Allied and RioCan developed, and it’s a pretty spectacular project. And that was on eight acres.”

Avery said municipalities across Canada would like to see residential density added to Primaris-owned retail sites where feasible. 

The trust’s primary focus remains on acquiring and managing shopping centres, so Primaris is open to partners that can either entirely acquire those potential intensification sites or enter a joint venture of some form.

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