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‘Manulife Place’ Retail Podium in Downtown Edmonton to See Major Overhaul [Renderings/Analysis]

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Following the loss of anchor store Holt Renfrew last week, Manulife Investments Management has announced that it will invest $30 million to overhaul the Manulife Place retail podium in downtown Edmonton. The podium, which will include a large rooftop terrace at the base of an office tower, will be unrecognizable when completed. 

Construction is set to begin on the project in the spring, which will include a new exterior façade for Manulife Place which the landlord says will include multi-level transparent glazing, as well as large digital signage on the podium exterior. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2021. Major changes to the retail component itself will see Manulife Place’s configuration modified with many storefronts having entrances onto the street, as part of an effort to bring foot traffic back to downtown Edmonton by creating a “visual dynamic and engaging streetscape”. 

Interiors of Manulife Place will be “refreshed” to include new porcelain flooring and LED lighting, and there will also be the addition of new “communal spaces”. The centre’s interior is known for its elegant and upscale grey and black marble and stone accents.

MANULIFE PLACE CIRCLED IN RED. IMAGE: CITY OF EDMONTON
A RECENT VIEW OF MANULIFE PLACE IN EDMONTON. IMAGE: GOOGLE STREET VIEW

On top of the overhauled Manulife Place will be a rooftop terrace spanning 45,000 square feet — Manulife notes that it is adding more than an acre of fully landscaped parkland to downtown Edmonton as part of the overhaul. 

“The city of Edmonton is undergoing a renaissance that will breathe life into its downtown service and amenity offerings,” said Ted Willcocks, Manulife Invesment Management’s Global Head of Asset Management, Real Estate. “The repositioning of Manulife Place is integral to this evolution and we are excited to be a part of redefining the community.”

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Willcocks explained how the main entrances will be on 101 Street with another on 102 Avenue, while the goal will be to activate the streetscape with new retailers with ground-level entrances. At the same time, corridors within the centre will be renovated to create a more modern look. The park will have opportunities for activations and will act as an amenity for the building, with more details to follow. He was unable to confirm any new tenants and said that discussions are ongoing, and said that he expects the centre to have the “best retail mix” in downtown Edmonton when completed at the end of next year.

Toronto-based retail consultancy Beauleigh is handling the retail vision for the re-merchandizing strategy and the leasing of the redevelopment. 

The retail podium of Manulife Place currently spans about 103,000 square feet over two levels. Current retail tenants include upscale fashion and accessory retailers. On the main floor, Upscale Edmonton-based multi-brand menswear retailer Henry Singer occupies a large space at Manulife Place which has operated there for more than 20 years, along with a children’s retailer called Alligator Pie — other retail spaces on the main floor are vacant according to mall floor plans online. The second level of Manulife Place includes a large storefront for upscale multi-brand women’s retailer Blu’s, as well as retail spaces occupied by RBC, Vanderberg Jewellers, Night Owl Imports, Jamieson’s Optical, and Headlines Salon and Spa. 

Until very recently, luxury multi-brand Holt Renfrew occupied the anchor space spanning both levels of Manulife Place. Holts closed its Manulife Place store on Saturday January 11th — the 32,000-square-foot store occupied its space at Manulife Place since the mixed-use building was constructed in 1982. Prior to that, Holt Renfrew occupied a 12,000 square foot store front at 10336 Jasper Avenue which opened in 1950, as well as a small men’s store nearby at the Hotel MacDonald. 

Directly above Manulife Place’s retail podium is a tall blue glass office tower soaring 36 stories over the street, spanning 745,000 square feet of office space. It was considered to be the most prestigious office building in Edmonton when it opened in 1983, boasting a unique tower configuration which offered many ‘corner office’ spaces given floor plate design. 

MANULIFE PLACE, INCLUDING ITS OFFICE TOWER. PHOTO: MANULIFE

Sources had said that some retailers had exited Manulife Place so that Holt Renfrew could expand into the entire 103,000 square foot Manulife Place retail podium. A deal was never finalized and Holt Renfrew has since exited the Edmonton market. Several other prestigious retailers have also existed in Manulife Place over the past couple of years, including a Maison Birks jewellery store as well as a storefront for German luxury women’s fashion brand Escada. 

It is not yet clear what new tenants will move into the overhauled Manulife Place retail podium. A rendering provided by Manulife at the top of this article might give some clues, however. 

On the main floor with a corner facade facing 102 Avenue and 101 Street where Holt Renfrew was located, the rendering at the top of this article indicates that a “Men’s Boutique” could become a tenant. While the identity of the retailer isn’t clear, one might speculate that menswear retailer Henry Singer could consider relocating into the space to build a new concept store. Singer was said to have been eyeing the nearby ICE District for a new store after it was thought that Holt Renfrew might take over the Manulife Place podium, and it may now instead look to move across from its current interior-accessed Manulife Place location into the new corner space featuring an entrance onto the street. Retail Insider reported in 2017 that Henry Singer had opened a new street-facing “store of the future” in downtown Calgary after relocating from an upper level space at nearby Bankers Hall. 

Other street-facing storefronts in the Manulife Place rendering indicate space for two ‘retail brands’ with no further identification or clues. 

RENDERING OF THE 101 STREET SIDE OF THE OVERHAULED MANULIFE PLACE PODIUM. IMAGE: MANULIFE
RENDERING OF THE UPDATED LOBBY ON 101 STREET AT MANULIFE PLACE IN EDMONTON. IMAGE VIA MANULIFE

The same rendering may provide some insight into what may be planned for the second retail level of the overhauled Manulife Place. Signage facing 101 Street saying ‘MP Market Hall’ could indicate the addition of a food and beverage component, possibly including a food hall as what has recently opened at True North Square in downtown Winnipeg. Consultancy Beauleigh also strategized and leased the recently completed Winnipeg project as well as other commercial developments housing food hall components. 

A fitness concept could open up as well, with ‘Spin Ritual’ signage in the above rendering of Manulife Place. 

On the second level, as well, the same rendering may provide a clue that a well-known anchor store could be moving into Manulife Place. Signage includes the words “Co Work, Publish, Evolve”. While some might assume that the space could be dedicated to co-working exclusively, there’s also the possibility that Staples could end up being a tenant, with a retail space that could include co-working space as has been rolled-out in several Staples locations nationally. Retail Insider reported last year that Staples had launched a new store concept that includes interactive elements as well as co-working options, and as part of the initiative Staples rebranded as “The Working and Learning Company”. Red square accents in the rendering of Manulife Place are not dissimilar from branding used by Staples. Until several years ago, Staples operated a standalone store in downtown Edmonton which was demolished for the ICE District development.

RENDERING OF THE ‘ICE DISTRICT’ VIA KATZ GROUP/ONE DEVELOPMENTS

Manulife Place is located at the heart of downtown Edmonton and is connected to other adjacent mixed-use buildings via an above-ground indoor ‘pedway’ pedestrian network. Thousands of people daily pass through the pedway network — which is also one of the reasons pedestrian traffic on the streets is less than in cities such as Vancouver. Light rail transit expansion in Edmonton will also connect Manulife Place to suburban communities to the west and southeast, along with a line that runs under Jasper Avenue that runs south towards the University of Alberta and southward, as well as northeast towards the city’s Clareview area. 

Despite the overhaul, Manulife Place will continue to see competition from nearby developments. ONE Developments and the Katz Group are building the 25-acre ICE District two blocks to the north, which includes more than 200,000 square feet of retail space as well as several tall towers containing office, hotel and residential uses. The flashy multi-block development includes a public square that can be activated for events, across from a major sports and entertainment facility as well as a nearby casino. A Loblaws City Market grocery store is a confirmed new tenant for the ICE District development, which will serve a growing downtown residential population nearby.

To the north across 102 Avenue from Manulife Place is Edmonton City Centre, which spans two large city blocks and includes a large multi-level shopping centre complex as well as a hotel and several office buildings. Oxford Properties recently sold Edmonton City Centre to a German landlord and its future is uncertain — some are speculating that the western portion of Edmonton City Centre could be redeveloped and that a tower could be built where a Hudson’s Bay department store is currently located.

Oxford struggled to secure tenants for Edmonton City Centre despite a multi-million dollar renovation that included a new food court. A proposed two-level H&M store at the northwest corner of 101 Street and 102 Avenue never came to fruition, and sources said that Holt Renfrew and Target could have anchored the centre as plans were being drawn up in 2013 for a complete overhaul. Holts would have occupied nearly 100,000 square feet over two levels with frontage on Churchill Square in a building that once housed a six-level Woodward’s department store. 

Oxford Properties was also said to have wanted Nordstrom to replace Hudson’s Bay at Edmonton City Centre, though the landlord was aware that talks were also taking place with West Edmonton Mall’s landlord Triple Five in 2014. Nordstrom put plans for an Edmonton store on ice after sales in the Calgary store began to decline after a collapse in oil prices in 2015 — retail sales at Nordstrom’s other Canadian stores outside of Vancouver were also said to be lower than had been anticipated.

EDMONTON CITY CENTRE — AT ONE TIME, H&M WAS SAID TO BE IN TALKS TO OCCUPY TWO LEVELS TO THE LEFT OF THIS PHOTO. IMAGE: INSIDE EDMONTON

Edmonton is a suburban city with several strong shopping centres as well as popular big-box retail centres. Some attribute West Edmonton Mall’s success to downtown Edmonton’s demise — West Edmonton Mall, which sees sales exceeding $1-billion annually, boasts more than 3 million square feet of retail space as well as an expansive offering of food, beverage and entertainment options. Southgate Centre, which is the fifth-most productive shopping centre in Canada in terms of sales per square foot, is located south of downtown in a comfortable upscale part of the city near the Whitemud Freeway. Kingsway Mall, located north of downtown Edmonton, features popular retailers not available downtown with names such as Lululemon, Aritzia, and Browns Shoes — Kingsway’s free parking is no doubt an attraction, given its proximity to the downtown core. Londonderry Mall saw more than $130 million invested into the centre over the past five years that included the addition of a Simons department store. Big-box retail also dominates the city with several major centres that include South Edmonton Common, which houses a large Ikea as well as Nordstrom Rack and Saks OFF 5TH, not to mention a new-concept Canadian Tire and other retailers. 

We’ll update this story when we learn more about the planned changes at Edmonton’s Manulife Place. In 2018, Manulife Place was the first in Edmonton to receive its Wired Gold Certification for its “best in class building connectivity”. The centre is also BOMA BEST® Certified and it recently received its LEED® EB Gold recertification demonstrating a significant and ongoing focus on excellence in real estate sustainability and design.

Manulife Place is jointly owned by Manulife and Alberta Investment Management Corporation (“AIMCo”).

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd.

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