THUNDER BAY - The look of downtown Fort William could be very different in the near future as the public weighs in on what should happen to Victoriaville Mall.
A public open house was held on Thursday as part of the city of Thunder Bay’s Reimagine Victoriaville Project where the Winnipeg consulting firm, Urban Systems, presented the final three options for the future of the mall.
“I think most people in Thunder Bay have an opinion on Victoriaville and it would be useful for the residents to see the information here and have their say on what this area should look and function in the future,” said Joel Depeuter, manager of realty services for the city.
“Its purpose was to compete with some of the suburban shopping centres but it wasn’t very effective in that way but it certainly has other benefits to the city. It’s a very good time, 40 years into its lifespan, to consider what should be done with it. It needs investment and how we should invest in it.”
The three options include demolishing the mall and reopening Victoria Avenue, renovating the mall or repurposing the space, or a hybrid option that would see the street opened again but portions of the mall remaining.
“There are pluses and minuses to all the different scenarios,” said Jeff Palmer, community planner with Urban Systems. “What we would like to hear today from people is what they like and don’t like about the options.”
None of the options have been fully costed yet, but an earlier study by the city found it would cost approximately $9 million to demolish the structure, which is similar to the total losses the mall would experience over a 10-year period.
“It’s 40 years old, it’s leaking, and it needs some renovation,” Palmer said. “That wasn’t really the purpose of the study at this point. The purpose was to come up with an economically viable option that meets the needs of the community.”
Palmer added that from an operational standpoint, demolishing the building is the cheapest option because the mall loses money every year.
“If the building is not here it’s not going to lose money,” he said. “The capital costs is more than $9 million to demolish it and restoring the street.”
The hybrid option proposed would see Victoria Avenue reopened with portions of the mall remaining on Syndicate Avenue.
“We think that is really important to the health of downtown to reopen Victoria,” Palmer said. “It would keep the portion on Syndicate because Syndicate is a dead end already. We would keep that part of the structure. It would still require renovation and maybe on north side of Syndicate maybe a public plaza. That is to be determined.”
If the entire mall is demolished, Palmer said two plazas could be added to the area and the addition of a shipping container mall, a short term project that is cost-effective, portable, and medium term temporary.
“They are a fast way to get some interesting space that can be used for creative purposes in your neighbourhood,” Palmer said.
The Reimagine Victoriaville Project is not just about the future of the mall, but the entire downtown south core.
During initial consultations with the public, Fort William and Victoriaville were described as rundown, a hangout, empty, dirty, unsafe, dangerous, and sad. However, people also said in 25 years the area could be safe, vibrant, clean, open, busy, and new.
“People are optimistic, which is good,” Palmer said. “We have to build on that. What we heard before is it’s a hangout, it’s not safe, but people view Fort William as being a vibrant active place in 25 years, so we need to capitalize on that energy and put some ideas forward that people can build on.”
Urban Systems will prepare a final recommendation in March to be presented to Thunder Bay city council in April.
A second public open house session will be held Thursday, Feb. 13 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Victoriaville Mall.
All concepts and designs can be found on the Reimagine Victoriaville Project website, as well as an online survey that will be open for the next two weeks.