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Big box outlets explore ‘old-style’ multi level stores as boomers move back downtown

As more and more people move into the downtown core, big-box retailers are seeking new ways to set up shop in areas that were previously not accessible.

Wal-Mart Corp., Canadian Tire Corp. and Loblaws Inc. are all examples of giant retailers who are trying to change the design of their stores to fit in confining downtown locations.

Speaking to the Ottawa Real Estate Forum earlier this week, Steve Lerner, the principal of Primecorp Commercial Realty Inc., said his company is dealing with numerous inquiries form big-box stores that are trying to find ways to set up shop in the downtown core.

He said Primecorp is looking at creating multi storey buildings and tiered parking lots in order to accommodate the retail giants and give them the space they need.

The baby boomers are aging and they want to move downtown and they very much want big boxes,” said Mr. Lerner. “They want food stores, they want drug stores, they want Wal-Mart and they want them downtown.”

Mr. Lerner’s company helps perform site selection for multi-national retailers, identifying space that could accommodate a store for various retailers.

He said because many of the big-box stores need more than 100,000 square feet of shopping space, plus more for parking, they have traditionally set up in the suburbs. But, he said new approaches to designing a big box store - are making downtown real estate look attractive.

“The trend, interestingly enough, goes back 30 or 40 years,” he said. “If you think back to stores like Eaton’s, they were all mutlifloored.”

Dennis Jacobs, director of planning, environment and infrastructure policy for the City of Ottawa, said the city’s official plan supports the idea of multi tiered shops.

“It’s really returning to the stores we used to have in the downtown core,” he said. “The official plan would encourage that.”

Mr. Lerner said the rise of the multilevel shops isn’t far off. He pointed to Canadian Tire, which has tow locations in downtown Toronto and another two in downtown Vancouver that are multilevel stores with tiered parking.

Wal-Mart opened a two-storey store in downtown White Plains, New York, in July and Loblaws’ downtown Ottawa location at the corner of Rideau Street and Nelson Street is built in two tiers with the parking lot underneath.

“You go up a conveyor belt with your grocery cart,” said Mr. Lerner. “I am looking at lifting up parks, putting parking underneath and then putting stores around it... anything I can assemble to come close to the required square footage I need.”

He said the National Capital Commission’s development in LeBreton Flats has attracted a lot of interest from big box retailers.

Mr. Lerner also said that home building supply giant Lowes Corp. has targeted Ottawa for at least six stores when it launches its Canadian invasion within the next couple of years.

He has been working with Lowes to find space in Ottawa that would suit the store’s needs. Lowes stores in the U.S. are bigger than Home Depot’s. Mr. Lerner said Lowes is looking at potential locations in Ottawa suburbs.


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