Merivale Mall owners mull major makeover of south Ottawa shopping centre

Merivale Mall highrise
The owners of the Merivale Mall are proposing to build a 12-storey mixed-use building next to the shopping centre as part of a multi-phased plan to redevelop the south Ottawa site.
Editor's Note

This story has been updated with comments from First Capital Realty.

The owners of the Merivale Mall are planning a significant makeover of the south Ottawa shopping plaza that includes a mixed-use highrise as the first step in a long-term strategy to reimagine the retail site.

In a development application recently filed at City Hall, First Capital Realty says it wants to construct at least two buildings beside the 220,000-square-foot shopping centre at 1642 Merivale Rd. The firm says it intends to pursue a multi-phased approach that would include the construction of a 12-storey mixed-use building and a seven-storey residential building.

In the planning document, First Capital says it is looking at a “wide range of potential future development plans” for the site. 

The application includes a hand-drawn sketch of one “potential build-out scenario” that replaces the existing shopping mall with a number of smaller mixed-use buildings and a retail component that appears to be less than half the size of the current plaza.

Merivale sketch

First Capital's vice-president of development for Eastern Canada, Luc Fortin, told OBJ Tuesday the sketch represents just one possibility for how the site could look in the future. He said the company remains focused on retaining its current retail tenants and constructing the 12- and seven-storey buildings.

In the first phase of its plan for Merivale Mall, First Capital is proposing to relocate the Harvey’s drive-through restaurant from the corner of Merivale Road and Viewmount Drive to the northeast corner of the property and replace it with the 12-storey highrise ​– which exceeds current height limits and would need a zoning amendment approved by city council – and the smaller building. 

The L-shaped 12-storey tower would feature about 15,000 square feet of commercial space on a ground-floor podium facing Merivale Road, with roughly 270 one- and two-bedroom residential units on the floors above. 

The plan calls for 55 surface-level parking spots and another 316 spaces in an underground lot. Amenities would include communal rooftop space and indoor activity rooms.

Fortin said First Capital should have a clearer idea of the project's timeline later this year, adding the company will look for a partner with expertise in residential development closer to the start of construction. 

Merivale Mall opened in 1976. The retail complex’s major tenants include Farm Boy, Sport Chek, Marshalls and Shoppers Drug Mart.

Like many other mall owners across Canada, First Capital appears to be rethinking its business model in the face of stiff competition from online retailers and changing consumer shopping habits.

Even before the industry was turned on its head as malls around the country were shuttered in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, shopping centres were in a state of flux.

Mall owners such as RioCan had already announced plans to rebuild or extensively renovative their properties with a mix of residential and commercial space as they search for ways to diversify revenues. 

RioCan, for example, is in the process of tearing down Lincoln Fields Shopping Centre and is looking at constructing new residential highrises at its other Ottawa holdings such as Westgate and Elmvale Acres shopping centres. 

Meanwhile, First Capital last year unveiled plans to build a 30-storey mixed-use highrise next to the Gloucester Centre, one of its other local retail properties. In its site plan application, the company called the project “the first stage of a larger redevelopment of Gloucester Centre,” which is located steps from the Blair LRT station.

“We think that transit is very important for the future, and densifying around those transit nodes is what we’re trying to do,” Fortin told OBJ last October.