Ottawa’s Retail Real Estate Faces Challenges Amid Economic Headwinds: JLL Report

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Ottawa’s retail real estate market is expected to soften amid continued economic headwinds, according to a new report by commercial real estate firm JLL

“The retail leasing market in Ottawa is stabilizing, with a small decline in the availability rate and relatively low absorption levels. Despite economic headwinds, net rental rates increased as new retail supply continued to underwhelm,” said the report, Ottawa Retail Insight, Spring 2024.

“Private and public stakeholders are working at both ends to create a much-needed boost in Ottawa’s residential supply. Retail sales growth in Ottawa experienced a notable slowdown in 2023, with minimal or no expected growth for the current year.”

Image: City of Ottawa

Despite a slowdown in retail consumption, the retail leasing market in Ottawa remains highly competitive, with availability rates slightly decreasing and notable growth in net rents. The limited new supply delivered in 2023 has sustained a market favorable to landlords, said JLL.

“General retail has accounted for the largest portion of absorbed retail space in Ottawa, while neighborhood, power, and strip centers have experienced stagnant absorption levels,” it said.

CF Rideau Centre and Bayshore Shopping Centre in Ottawa have managed to secure leases from renowned retailers including RW&Co., Uniqlo, and Imaginaire. While rents in Ottawa are still on the rise, the rate of growth is expected to level off. Rent increases this year will be primarily influenced by the lack of new competitive retail space, inflation and escalating property taxes, rather than the improved retail fundamentals that drove the rent uptick in 2023.

“The trend of decreasing retail completions is anticipated to be reversed soon. Nonetheless, few projects in the pipeline will address the urgent requirement for more retail space in the downtown area in the immediate future. Instead, development activities are primarily focused on areas beyond the downtown core.”

CF Rideau Centre (Image: Cadillac Fairview)
Uniqlo store at CF Rideau Centre in Ottawa. Photo: Uniqlo
Ottawa Retail Spring 2024 (Image: JLL)

JLL said downtown Ottawa may not see a substantial influx of new retail space, but the city is determined to uplift ByWard Market. With a significant budget allocated for upgrades, the city aims to enhance security measures and rejuvenate key areas such as ByWard Market Square, William Street, and the adjacent parking garage. Addressing security concerns and rejuvenating the market will help stabilize the area and give locals and tourists alike another reason to shop in the city.

“Even with the lack of imminent retail supply in urban Ottawa, there remains optimism for boosted sales thanks to a multitude of residential projects slated for delivery in the coming years,” added the report.

“Colonnade Bridgeport has an extensive development pipeline aimed at addressing Ottawa’s housing crisis, encompassing 14 buildings across the city. The multi-billion-dollar pipeline is set to deliver over 3,400 residential units upon completion. While the towers won’t be concentrated downtown, they will be strategically positioned in areas with transit access to the downtown core. The company plans to start construction on at least two sites off Highway 417 by the year’s end.

“The public sector is also actively addressing the housing shortage, using its power to revise zoning bylaws. The revision involves introducing new areas for infill development and allowing increased residential density in the suburbs. These actions will complement the existing residential growth already taking place in suburban Ottawa. Upon completion of the bylaw revision in 2025, these efforts will create new possibilities for residential projects, leading to increased sales and demand for additional retail spaces.”

Bayshore Shopping Centre (Image: James Park)

In 2023, JLL said retail sales in Ottawa experienced a notable deceleration, growing by just 1.2 per cent compared to the growth rate of 3.4 per cent in 2022. Ongoing economic pressures have further contributed to the anticipation of limited growth in retail sales for the current year, as consumer spending is expected to decline. Notably, there has been a slowdown in sales growth for retail staples including general merchandise, clothing, and shoes, it said.

“Although Ottawa saw a deceleration in sales growth in 2023, the city remains supported by robust long-term fundamentals due to its significant number of high-paying public sector jobs and anticipated population growth driven by immigration,” explained the report.

“The food services sector, encompassing full and quick-service restaurants, fared better than the goods sector in 2023 and is expected to maintain growth in the low single digits, albeit at a slower pace.”

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Ottawa (Rendering: Hard Rock)

Over the past three years, air passenger traffic volume has continued to rise, growing by almost 37 per cent in 2023, said the commercial real estate firm. Although the number of passengers has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels, the delivery of Hard Rock’s 150-room, 1,600-slot Hotel & Casino by mid-2025 offers an added incentive for travelers to visit the nation’s capital, it said, adding that public transit has also shown growth, increasing by 36.2 per cent annually. 

However, ridership levels remain well below pre-pandemic levels. The prevalence of hybrid work models, which require employees to be present for only two to three days per week, will likely continue to limit public transit usage for the foreseeable future, according to the report.

“Ottawa’s retail sector is experiencing a weakened outlook as the growth rate of spending on general merchandise, clothing, and shoes is slowing. However, there are positive prospects for sustained growth in food services and tourism. Efforts are underway to tackle the city’s housing shortage, which will ultimately provide retailers with a larger pool of potential customers as more transit-accessible towers are delivered,” concluded the JLL report.

Ottawa Retail Spring 2024 (Image: JLL)

Casdin Parr, Executive Vice President, Retail Advisory Services, JLL, said the return to the downtown core in Ottawa has certainly been slower than it has been in Toronto for instance.

Casdin Parr

“While (CF) Rideau (Centre) continues to be the dominant asset in the downtown core from a retail perspective,” he said. “They’ve made some great additions over the last 12 months with the likes of Uniqlo, Athleta and some still to open like Alo Yoga.

“The strength in the marketplace is also spreading out to the Bayshore and the St. Laurent assets as the hybrid work model in the Ottawa market is probably a little bit more entrenched and we’re seeing some of the consumer spending shifting from the downtown core out to some of these suburban trade in the marketplace.”

Downtown Rideau (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
Byward Market in Ottawa (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Parr said the density of new homes in Ottawa as well is different than Toronto and Vancouver. While there is still downtown density being added, a lot of the new home development, single-family and multi-family, is actually being spread out over a larger geographic area in the Ottawa marketplace.

“I think long-term in Ottawa the return to work provides more opportunity looking forward. The tourism component is still on the rise and has the ability to rebound to help support the Ottawa downtown core in particular,” he said. “It’s been a slower build to get back to where we were but I also think they may still have a larger ahead to recapture and continue growth going forward.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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