‘Ottawa’ RioCan Asks Residents What they Want to See at Lincoln Fields
More than 100 Lincoln Fields-area residents gathered in one of the vacant stores in the 45-year-old shopping mall Tuesday night night to hear what RioCan has in mind for the 45-year-old property.
The answer? The country’s biggest real estate investment trust doesn’t know yet.
RioCan has plans to reinvent its aging shopping centres over the next 20 years or so. Just last week, the city’s planning committee approved redevelopment for Westgate Shopping Centre, which is to include five mixed-use towers ranging in height from 24 to 36 storeys, as well as privately owned public property to be used as a gathering space.
Rumours have been circulating that something similar is afoot for Lincoln Fields, which has a prime location close to the coming LRT. Residents who rely on Lincoln Fields for their essential shopping are wary and anxious about the future of the mall. Walmart, the mall’s largest tenant, left Lincoln Fields in January 2016 for Bayshore, leaving a vacant store, a large empty parking lot, and a hole in the retail ecosystem of the neighbourhood, which has one of the highest concentrations of older adults in the city.
RioCan’s vice president development Stuart Craig said there are no firm plans so far. He urged residents to tell the company what they want to see in terms of retail over the next five to 10 years. Feedback is to be integrated into a draft plan, which will come back to the community for more input.
“Just because that’s what we’re doing at Westgate, that may not apply here,” Craig told the crowd. “The good news is that we haven’t committed to anything yet.”
One thing is certain: don’t expect another large retailer like Walmart, which had occupied 120,000 square. RioCan believes that retail is alive and well, but with the shift to Internet shopping, he said, tenants aren’t looking for that kind of space anymore.
In an interview before the meeting, Craig said RioCan wants the redevelopment to have a retail core but the company might change the mall’s configuration. There is also room for residential development.
“The LRT will be the catalyst,” said Craig. “It may look like Westgate. But it may be a long way away.”
Some residents said they were worried about stores and services leaving the neighbourhood to make room for residential development, and about what would happen in the interim while the property is being redeveloped.
“We have enough condos around here,” said Lisa Lamoureux, who has shopped at the mall for 15 years. “We need services. People come here to socialize. If it’s not here, where will the elderly go?”
Irina Kudryashova, who doesn’t drive, said the Metro food store at the mall is the only supermarket within walking distance. “I don’t want it to disappear. We’ll be left with no place to go for food, for a pharmacy.”
Store owners are also wondering about where they fit in the future of the mall.
Sam Olszynko, owner of Jewellery Encounter, said there are five vacant stores in the mall besides Walmart and he has seen little interest from potential new tenants. He has been at Lincoln Fields for 19 years and will tough it out to the end of his three-year lease. But traffic has slowed since Walmart left, and a lot of merchants are struggling. He feels he’s stuck in limbo while decisions are made about redeveloping the mall.
“Customers tell me they don’t want apartment buildings here. They want shopping.”
Bay ward Coun. Mark Taylor, who was at the meeting, acknowledged that residents were worried when Walmart left. “RioCan has said it has no firm plans. But they want the public to help guide the process. They want to make sure what’s needed is here.”