UPDATED: ‘Unique’ tenant needed for Rideau Centre theatre space: broker

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The unconventional layout and orientation of the soon-to-be vacated movie theatres on the top floor of the Rideau Centre mean the mall’s owners may look to a non-retail tenant to fill the space, according to one local real estate expert.

Empire Theatres announced Monday it would be shutting down its operations at the mall on March 21, leaving the space empty before the end of the month. Rideau Centre general manager Cindy VanBuskirk declined to say Monday what could go in its place.

While the vacancy rate in Ottawa’s major shopping centres has been below one per cent for several years, filling the space presents some unique challenges, said Kelvin Holmes, managing director of the Ottawa office of Colliers International. The theatre is one of the only tenants on the shopping centre’s fourth floor, meaning people have to go out of their way to get there.

That doesn’t make it a prime candidate for a standard, run-of-the-mill store since it would be unlikely to get many customers who are just happening by.

However it presents an opportunity for mall officials to bring in a non-retail tenant who will draw people to the area located just on the edge of the ByWard Market.

“I crave something unique for downtown Ottawa and if there was another reason for me to go to the Rideau Centre as opposed to just shop, I’d probably go there more often,” said Mr. Holmes.

Mr. Holmes said he hasn’t looked at prospective tenants, but suggested a high-end restaurant, a French café or office space would be ideal candidates.

A restaurateur could make use of the patio outside and the well-lit landing at the top of escalator, he said. A high-tech company could also be keen to move into the space, he said, given the newfound interest of firms in that sector have for moving into the area around the Market.

A lot of those possibilities will hinge on whether new tenants can introduce natural light to the space, he said. As it stands now there are no windows inside the area where the movie theatre is situated.

Other ideal possibilities include an art gallery or a live theatre to host plays or other productions.

“Whatever goes in there has to have a specific purpose and be a destination-type location,” said Mr. Holmes.

Another market watcher feels the space could be used for retail if the Rideau Centre finds the right tenant.

Barry Nabatian, director of the market research division at Shore Tanner & Associates, said a popular store such as fashion retailer H & M would be enough to bring customers to the top floor.

He pointed out that American retailer Nordstrom will be moving into the Rideau Centre in the next few years, which he believes will help drive up demand for space in the mall.

That means the space will still be in high demand even if customers have to take another escalator to get there.

“With Nordstrom going there, it’s going to become much more popular and it’s going to be attracting higher-quality tenants,” said Mr. Nabatian.

“I think that slowly, gradually they’re going to be replacing some of the more average, mid-priced, mid-quality stores with higher and higher quality and therefore higher rent type of stores.”

If the space is repurposed, the Rideau Centre theatres will join at least one other converted movie house in downtown Ottawa.

The office space within the Place de Ville podium on Queen Street, between Lyon and Kent streets, encircles two former theatres that contained nearly 1,200 seats. It operated between 1971 and 1996 and counted former prime minister Pierre Trudeau among its patrons, according to a previous interview with Alain Miguelez, an Ottawa resident, planner and author of A Theatre Near You.