Lancaster Mall leading west side's retail revival

SAINT JOHN - Bruce Creber wishes his company had more property on the west side.

                                  

                                   Bruce Creber

The vice-president of real estate investments for Counsel Corporation, which owns Lancaster Mall, believes the area west of the two bridges is prime for retail development.

"We've done our research on the demographics of the west side," he said this week. "We've been around the property a lot and really observed the traffic patterns and where people are shopping and their likes and dislikes of going to the east side of the city versus the west side. And we think there's just a very large untapped demand for better quality stores."

Besides the $13 million in expansion underway at the mall, which includes a bigger Zellers and a new stand-alone Shoppers Drug Mart, Counsel has bought two properties across the road, on Fairville Boulevard, and demolished the old houses and commercial space known as Action Square that used to sit there.

He said the company plans on constructing space for two to four tenants, although he wouldn't divulge any other details.

The west side revival includes a new Sobeys and strip mall down the road, a new Canadian Tire, the demolition of the old transit garages and the possibility of a new, bigger NB Liquor store. On top of this, the city plans on redesigning the tortured Simms Corner intersection, removing heavy trucks from Harding Street and straightening the Bridge Road.

The Toronto businessman said it's good to see one area of the country doing so well in the midst of a global recession that's hammering Ontario.

"There's so much happening in Saint John in terms of growth, construction, the projects that Irving Oil's working on now, the nuclear plant, the list is on and on and on," he said.

"There's going to be a lot of employment growth, a lot of economic development, a lot of additional wealth and a lot of new permanent jobs that are going to be created and it's just a terrific market to be working in, especially right now. While everything else is slowing down, we can be working toward the future."

Bob Manning, the chairman of Enterprise Saint John, agreed that the retail future is bright for the west side, and the rest of the city.

"If you've spent any time with folks in retail, they do their homework. And they are very aware of what's going on, they spend a lot of time looking at statistical data and trying to figure things out," he said. "We've always said retail is one of those leading indicators of what the future's going to hold."

Manning warned that the recession wouldn't leave the city unscathed - layoffs have already been announced in a number of workplaces, most notably Aliant and CBC Radio.

"Whether it's a large step backwards or a small step backwards, I don't know. I do believe though that we will recover and once we recover we will be stronger than ever because the potential of some of the energy projects on the horizon."

As for retail development in other parts of the city, Creber said he's not worried about the competition. McAllister Place on the east side just announced $12 million in renovations and East Point Shopping plans on building a new Costco.

"The more Saint John gets put on the map, the better it is for us."

Published Saturday April 11th, 2009 - Telegraph Journal