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Egan: In whole or part, Lincoln Fields on demolition block

Lincoln Fields Shopping Centre will likely be torn down in phases to make way for a major redevelopment, the mall owner admits.

In a candid interview, RioCan chief executive officer Edward Sonshine said the sprawling, two-level mall, wedged between western Carling Avenue and Richmond Road, “is not doing well.”

This assessment will hardly come as news to locals. The shopping centre lost its Walmart in January and the 120,000 square feet continue to sit empty, as do a handful of stores on the upper level.

The Lincoln Fields reimagining is part of a company-wide effort to update its old-style malls in major Canadian markets with access to transit, including four sites in Ottawa.

The firm, the country’s largest mall owner, is making a major bet on highrise rental, eying about 3,000 to 4,000 new units in the next five years.

Sonshine said two major trends are behind the company’s thinking. Pushback against urban sprawl has meant intensification is strongly underway in inner cities, leading to 50- and 60-storey towers in places once thought unthinkable.

And, he adds, traditional retail is flat or declining, partly due to online shopping, partly due to an aging demographic or simply an oversupply of space.

“When you put those two trends together,” he said one day last week, “what you’ve got is a lesser demand for retail space than historically has been the case but a much higher demand for residential space, if you’ve got your properties in the right places.”

Lincoln Fields fits the bill. It is big, at about 18 acres, and already has a major transitway link, to be converted to an LRT station in Phase 2.

RioCan executives have already met with Bay ward Coun. Mark Taylor. He said the initial talk is about taking the mall down in phases and concentrating on a link by skyway or pathway with the future transit station, off the eastern end of the property.

Taylor said Lincoln Fields is one of the few sites on the LRT route where a large-scale redesign almost building a new neighbourhood is possible.

He thinks a mix of mid- to highrise rental, possibly with office space, the retention of basic retail like food and community services, all meshed with improved transit, is probably the way to go.

“Right now, it’s kind of a concrete oasis,” said Taylor. “We’d like to see some green in there, maybe a link off the Pinecrest Creek corridor. It’s a great opportunity to correct some ’60s thinking, if you will.”

RioCan, in fact, is taking aim at its malls of that era. It is looking at as many as five towers on the Westgate Shopping Centre site, starting with a 22-storey rental on the footprint of Monkey Joe’s eatery.

Similar plans are underway for Elmvale Acres and Silver City, where a 30-storey building is proposed over a retail podium right next to Blair transit station, to be part of LRT’s Confederation Line.

“We’re rebuilding cities here,” Sonshine said he recently told an executive he was enticing to the firm. “Don’t you want to be a part of this?”

Sonshine said RioCan wants to engage the community in the process and, to that end, an open house on Lincoln Fields is being considered for this fall.

Change has been a constant at Lincoln Fields since it opened its doors in May 1972 as the city’s “third-enclosed shopping centre.” Initially, it had Ottawa’s first Woolco store, an Ogilvy’s department store outlet and, until 1984, a Loblaws.

It underwent a facelift in 1985 with the addition of a skylight court and rebranding as Lincoln Heights Galleria.

It now has a large Metro grocery store, a Rexall and an arm of the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre among its 40 or so outlets.

Taylor said it’s important to retain the grocery store as the area has a fairly high concentration of older adults who are transit-dependent.

Julia Goodman is president of the Lincoln Heights-Parkway Community Association. She said the neighbourhood misses the Walmart store and its absence has underlined the need to do something with the sprawling space.

“I think, in general, the reaction would be positive” to a redevelopment, she said. However, there would be concerns over the height and density of any new stacked rental buildings, plus concerns over added traffic, she said.

An improved link to the transit station would be welcomed, she said, as would improvements being considered in the “complete street” treatment of Richmond.

Malls as city builders? Sure seems to be today’s special.

Source: Ottawa Citizen, Kelly Egan, 26 June 2016