$12M makeover for McAllister Place

Construction Contractors will work at night; mall manager aims for October completion date

SAINT JOHN - You know the local economy is doing well when one of North America's biggest commercial real estate firms pumps $12 million into a popular mall.

This is an artist's conception of the new look McAllister Place will have after its $12-million renovations. The mall's interior will be renewed from top to bottom, starting in May.

Cadillac Fairview's recent announcement that it will spend that eye-boggling amount on renovations at McAllister Place on the east side is sweet news to Brian MacMullin.

MacMullin, the general manager of the mall since 1998, said this will be the biggest refurbishment under his stewardship.

"It will be amazing," he said.

"It will have a great impact for the property, and customers will love the results. We anticipate higher customer traffic as a result, and that should hopefully translate into greater success for our retailers."

The mall's interior will be renewed top to bottom, starting in May. Contractors will do the work at night after the mall closes to avoid customers getting dust in their hair or walking into a bucket of paint.

MacMullin is pushing for the bulk of the work to be completed by the end of October, before the Christmas rush begins when retailers make or break their year in sales. The finishing touches will likely be done in January of next year.

"Inside the shopping centre we're going to be touching everything - floors, walls, ceilings, adding new skylights in certain areas, expanding the food court seating area. We're redoing the washrooms, so we're touching everything inside the mall. We'll redo the entrances at the same time. It's going to be beautiful when it's done."

There are several reasons for the renovations - confidence in the local economy, which up until now has weathered the global recession better than many places, and strong sales over 2008 that buck the national trend. MacMullin said survey results also showed that the mall's throngs of customers wanted an enhanced shopping experience.

Cadillac Fairview's response will probably encourage many of those customers who did the three-minute questionnaires at the mall's exit.

Besides increasing ceiling heights and adding more skylights, McAllister Place will create warmly lit soft seating spots and increase the sit-down area in the food court by more than a third. This will include the introduction of 12-foot harvest tables for groups that want to chow down.The idea is to take some of the tiredness out of the mall and create a more comfy, ambient and friendly atmosphere.

McAllister Place has scored by luring some popular chains lately, including Aeropostale, the casual clothing store that originated in New York City. Boathouse, the unisex clothing store that appeals to the skateboard and surf set, and Yves Rocher, the natural beauty products shop, will also open soon.

A dominant local retail player since it opened in 1978 with 40 stores, McAllister Place kept on top of the competition by doubling its floor space and stores in 1989, transforming it from a community shopping mall to a regional attraction. Today it has 105 stores, including longtime anchors Sears, Sobeys, Zellers and Toys R Us.

Part of the success has to do with its owner, Cadillac Fairview, which has deep pockets and a $16-billion portfolio. It's one of the area's big commercial real estate investors and while it may not be a household name, locals know Cadillac Fairview's malls - it also owns Champlain Place in Dieppe and Regent Place in Fredericton.

Over the last couple of years, much of McAllister Place's retail might in Saint John has been usurped by East Point Shopping, up the hill off Westmorland Road, where Troy Northrup's high-end development looks down on McAllister Place like a new giant on the block. Northrup has already attracted a high end hotel, Hampton Inn & Suites; an Indigo, which is the biggest book store in Canada east of Quebec, and only last week it was announced that the mother of them all: Costco, the wholesale retailer that people will travel hours to visit, will open next year.

McAllister Place officials spoke against the rezoning of the lands for East Point, but now seem to have a grudging respect for the big box bonanza on the hill. There's hope now that Costco will draw people from outside the city to the entire east side shopping experience, including McAllister Place.

"We believe that it just reconfirms the strength of the Saint John market and how the economy is performing," MacMullin said. "It's positive for the city and positive for McAllister Place and it keeps customers in Saint John, and that's what everybody likes to see."

Published Saturday April 11th, 2009 Telegraph Journal