Saturday, June 15, 2024

Hudson’s Bay asks city not to designate Rideau Street location as heritage property

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The Hudson’s Bay Company is asking the city not to designate the department store’s exterior across from the Rideau Centre as a heritage property, for fear it would diminish its value for a future sale or redevelopment.

City of Ottawa staff have recommended to the city’s built heritage committee that the facade of the store located at 73 Rideau Street be designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.

City staff say the store has historical value for its Beaux-Arts architectural style, a popular style in Canada in the early 1900’s. The store also stood as the site of the Freiman department store, built in several phases between 1926 and 1929.

“Throughout the store’s 71-year history, the Freiman department store became the largest and most iconic department store in Ottawa,” a report to the city’s built heritage committee says.

The building has been occupied by The Bay since the 1970’s.

In a letter addressed to the city clerk last month, The Bay says the designation would incur increased costs to the property and cause the property to be “less marketable” in the event of a sale.

“In the event we wish to redevelop the Property, the redevelopment will be more costly as a result of being required to maintain the protected elements of the buildings,” said Hudson’s Bay vice-president of real estate Franco Perugini in the letter.

“The protection of the large display windows on the first storey may potentially harm future tenanting opportunities, making it more difficult to lease the Property.”

The exterior of Freiman’s department store decorated for the 1939 Royal Visit. (Canada Department of Public Works collection/Library and Archives Canada)

The company is also asking that staff provide additional time to review any additional materials from the committee and to review the supporting heritage documents.

Its five-storey massing, stone cladding, flat roof and symmetrical façade have defined the commercial character of Rideau Street, staff say. The first two storeys, as well as the sixth storey, feature arch windows often used in the Beaux-Arts style.

The George Street façade at the rear of the building is already part of the ByWard Market Heritage Conservation District under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Stéphanie Plante said she supports the recommendations made by staff.

“I always say the more heritage, the better. We have a beautiful built heritage history here in our nation’s capital and I look forward to showcasing it anything any way we can,” Plante told CTV News in an interview.

Plante says she doesn’t agree that heritage designations prevent businesses from selling or redeveloping, but says she is hoping to work with The Bay on their future plans for the site.

“People think that heritage designations are kind of handcuffing them to further development, but that can’t be further from the truth. There are ways to retain the facade. There are ways to retain the heritage and also accommodate for growth,” she said.

North side of Rideau Street looking west, showing the original building at 73 Rideau Street, 1898. (John Beverley MacLaughlin/ Library and Archives Canada)

David Flemming, chair of the advocacy committee for Heritage Ottawa, says the building is important for supporting and maintaining the commercial character of Rideau Street.

“I’m surprised that Hudson’s Bay Company, which is the oldest company in Canada, which has done so much for preserving the heritage of Canada, is taking a stand on this,” Flemming said in an interview.

“I could understand it from maybe a lot of other companies that don’t have such deep roots in our country’s history, but I think it’s rather distressing that the HBC is taking this attitude.”

Despite The Bay’s objections, city staff say their arguments “do not provide new or substantive information” and still maintain that the property merits heritage designation.

“Heritage designation does not dictate or require that a building have or maintain a particular use, nor does it limit who may use a building. Staff have recommended that the proposed designation be limited to the exterior, so there would not be any heritage permit requirement for interior changes to accommodate new tenants,” city staff say in the report to the heritage committee.

Staff say marketability or potential impacts to the sale of a property are not a consideration when evaluating a property for designation and would not have a significant impact with the rear of the store already being protected.

“In staff’s opinion, the designation of the portion of the building facing Rideau Street would unify the property’s designation status and clarify the permitting requirements for any potential new owner, in the event of sale. Additionally, there may be opportunities for new marketing potential that highlights the history of the property and its cultural heritage value,” the report says.

City council approved a notice of intention to designate 73 Rideau Street under the Ontario Heritage Act in April. Councillors will consider the objections by the company at the next built heritage committee meeting on June 11 and the next city council meeting later this month.

CTV News Ottawa reached out to the Hudson’s Bay Company for comment, but did not agree to an interview. 

With files from CTV News Ottawa’s Austin Lee

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