RioCan’s redevelopment of Lincoln Fields heads to planning committee Thursday

Lincoln Fields
Copyright Justin S. Campbell 2017. Via Flickr.

The first phase of a plan to replace the Lincoln Fields Shopping Centre with a mix of new retail and commercial space goes before the city’s planning committee this Thursday.

Toronto-based developer RioCan, which owns the west-end shopping plaza, is proposing to demolish the 47-year-old mall and build a Metro supermarket and a two-storey commercial building that will include a Rexall pharmacy and a Moore’s clothing store. Most of the 288,000-square-foot shopping centre is now vacant except for an existing Metro store and Rexall location that will be replaced by the new project. 

The eastern part of the mall will be torn down first to allow the existing supermarket to remain open while a new 28,000-square-foot food store is constructed on the eastern border of the property. The two-storey, 17,000-square-foot commercial building will be located south of the current mall near Carling Avenue.

RioCan’s plans to redevelop Lincoln Fields reflect an upheaval in the Canadian retail sector.

As more and more consumers turn to online commerce and flock to big-box stores, second-tier shopping centres such as Lincoln Fields are losing customers. Vacancy rates in these malls are rising while sales per square foot are declining, forcing landlords to find other ways to maximize their returns on prime real estate such as the 16-acre Lincoln Fields site.

RioCan appears to be trying to do just that. In a planning application filed last year at City Hall, the company called the proposal to tear down Lincoln Fields and replace it with the two new commercial buildings “a preliminary phase that would permit future redevelopment of the property into a higher-density, mixed-use community.”

Although planning documents said the exact nature of that future redevelopment is “still to be determined,” RioCan chief executive Jonathan Gitlin told OBJ earlier this year his company is looking at a broader range of uses for the 44 million square feet of retail space it owns across the country.

“I think we’re doing a number of things to ensure that we have relevant retail,” Gitlin said. “One of those is changing the types of tenants that we have in our buildings. Part of it is building mixed-use (developments), where we urbanize, modernize and bring residential (units) to our retail sites.”

Retail analyst Barry Nabatian said RioCan’s approach is designed to help the real estate firm generate new income streams from the large swaths of land surrounding urban malls that are currently filled with half-empty parking lots.

“The best solution for them … is to have highrise rentals, even sometimes condominiums, as close to the shopping centres as possible,” Nabatian, a researcher at Ottawa’s Shore-Tanner & Associates, told OBJ earlier this year.

But not everyone is thrilled with RioCan’s proposal.

Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper, who sits on the planning committee, said in a newsletter to constituents earlier this week he believes the site “should be developed to enhance Carling and Richmond as more pedestrian-friendly main streets.” 

Leiper said any residential development at the site should be located as close to the future Lincoln Fields LRT station as possible, “something that may be precluded if there is a suburban Metro store at the best location.” 

However, he said opponents of the plan could be facing an uphill battle. The property is already zoned for commercial use, and earlier this year, the city’s committee of adjustment approved RioCan’s request to build more parking spaces than current zoning rules permit, a decision that is binding.