Reno to plug a leak

An expanded and renovated Bower Place Shopping Centre will help stem the “leakage” of consumer dollars from Red Deer, says the man who spearheaded the multimillion-dollar mall makeover.

John van Haastrecht

An expanded and renovated Bower Place Shopping Centre will help stem the “leakage” of consumer dollars from Red Deer, says the man who spearheaded the multimillion-dollar mall makeover.

“One of the things that really affects local business is people going elsewhere to shop,” said John van Haastrecht, president of Vanreal Ltd. “And they go elsewhere to shop because they don’t have the product lines that they’re looking for.”

Van Haastrecht, whose Toronto-based company is a minority owner of the centre, was in Red Deer on Wednesday to lead a private tour through a new wing being developed in the space previously occupied by the Convergys Corp. call centre.

Scheduled to open to the public next Thursday, the area will include the likes of H&M, The Children’s Place, Bath & Body Works and RW & Co. — retailers that van Haastrecht said might not have come to Red Deer if a venue like Bower Place Shopping Centre was not available.

Other stores in the new wing will include Lush, Quark Shoes, Charm Diamond Centres, Sirens, Michael Hill Jeweller, Flight Centre, Thyme Maternity, Sunglass Plus, Bears & Wishes, Teaopia, Jugo Juice and Koryo Grill. Relocating from elsewhere in the mall will be Consumer’s Optical, Wild Mountain, Subway, Bell and Telus.

H&M, RW & Co. and a half dozen other stores will open on April 30, with the rest to follow. Renovations are expected to continue until mid-August.

Van Haastrecht said 90 per cent of the approximately 36,000 square feet of new retail space has been leased, with the balance under negotiations.

“Two years ago it would have gone a lot faster,” he said. “The economy has made a big difference, so people are being a little bit slower in making decisions.”

The cost of developing the wing is $12 million, said van Haastrecht, bringing the total for work at the mall over the past five years to $55 million. But he expressed satisfaction with the result.

“People just don’t go to shop. They go to meet people, they go to socialize — and shopping centres, when they evolve properly, become a major focal point of a city and the identity of a city.”

Power centres and box stores do not satisfy this need, he added.

“I think Wal-Mart is the worst thing that’s happened to society since Attila the Hun sacked Rome.”

Van Haastrecht said the departure of Convergys last June was actually a welcome development, explaining that the space is better suited for retail use.

“We were already prepared, because we’d been hoping for it, and we’d already planned this concept of putting a new mall outside of Zellers.”

Vanreal Ltd. has a 25 per cent interest in Bower Place Shopping Centre, with the balance owned by British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (bcIMC).

Van Haastrecht said Vanreal will sell its share to bcIMC by year-end.

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