District Realty CEO says no immediate plans for redevelopment at City Centre

An exterior photo showing City Centre.
District Realty said their are no current plans to redevelop the City Centre property. File Photo.

By Charlie Senack

Hintonburg’s Orange Art Gallery will vacate its space at 290 City Centre Ave. at the end of December after the building’s landlords did not renew its lease, leading other tenants and nearby residents to speculate about plans for redevelopment of the site.

District Realty, which represents the owner of the land, told the gallery it would need to move out at the end of this year. District Realty CEO Jason Shinder tells KT there are no plans to make any site changes to the City Centre complex.

“The existing ownership has not pursued increased density or looked at all into future development of the site. There are no formal plans to change it in the near term,” said Shinder. “We are very happy with the tenant mix. We are very happy with the performance of the property. We are investing in the infrastructure of the site to improve it for the tenants of the building.”

He said that includes upgrades to the building’s electrical system to fit the changing needs of tenants.

Ingrid Hollander, co-owner of the gallery, fought for at least a year’s extension, but was told that would not be possible.

Hollander said she asked District Realty what the plans were for the building and was told it would sit empty. That has led Hollander and many in the community to speculate that it would be demolished to make way for future development.

The exterior of Orange Art Gallery.
Orange Art Gallery will be forced to close at the end of December. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Antique store A Fine Thing Furniture, located nearby at 989 Somerset St. W., is slated for demolition in the new year. A new 15-storey Claridge high-rise residential development is planned to be built on that site.

The art gallery has operated out of City Centre since 2014. Earlier this year, as the gallery looked ahead to the future with event planning, it was eager to renew its lease for a few more years. 

“I wish we had more time, but it’s inevitable,” said Hollander. “It’s unfortunate. The community is losing a spot where you can have weddings, birthday parties and corporate events. There are not many spaces that are unique like this. The community is losing a great place for art classes. The whole vibe of the place was fun. The artists are losing a place to showcase their art.”

After news broke that the gallery would not continue to operate at City Centre, a petition was started to try and sway District Realty into extending its lease. It garnered more than 900 signatures. 

An application was also filed for the gallery’s building to be granted heritage designation. The 125-year-old former CN Rail building was once owned by Canadian lumber tycoon and railroad baron John Rudolphus (J.R.) Booth. His lumber complex at one time was the biggest in the world and the timberlands under his control occupied an area larger than France. The building still has some of its original features, including a bank vault in the main room.

The bank vault inside Orange Art Gallery. Photos hang on the walls nearby.
The original bank vault still sits in the former CN Rail building. Photo by Charlie Senack.

The file was supposed to go before city council in November, but was postponed to December because the building’s landlords were out of the country. That meeting was cancelled and is now scheduled for mid-January. 

“I will be presenting city council with all the pages I received from the petition to save the building to get the heritage designation,” said Hollander. “I’ll feel good if that happens, but it hasn’t helped us in renewing our lease. No Christmas miracle seems to be happening.” 

Orange Art Gallery represents about 25 artists from the Ottawa area.

Hollander said she’s open to moving elsewhere, but hasn’t found a building that meets the needs of the business. In the interim, the gallery’s website will continue to operate with pop-up shows possible in the spring.

“I’m not shutting any doors down. Step one is to move out of here and I’m keeping my eyes open. Maybe I’ll come up with something quite different,” she said. “If I do something, I want to make sure that it’s a step forward and not a step back. In the end, a building is just a building. It’s the people and artists who really give life to a space. If we’ve done it here we can do it again.”

Ingrid poses for a photograph. She’s wearing an orange shirt. Behind her are some of the comments left by saddened visitors.
Ingrid Hollander is co-owner of Orange Art Gallery. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Financial pressures cause The Yard to close

Elsewhere in the City Centre area, The Yard, Ottawa’s only indoor skate and bike park, is closing. 

In an emailed message to customers, owner Anthony Bereznai said the tough decision was made due to rising costs and financial pressures. 

“Our current lease ends at the end of March and I have been trying to negotiate a new lease with our landlord. Unfortunately, we have not been able to agree on terms that the business can afford,” Bereznai wrote. “We have also been searching for other potential locations for the past year, but no suitable options have been found. With nowhere new to go and our current location too expensive, The Yard will likely be closing its doors when our lease runs out at the end of March.”

The Yard opened in an old warehouse at 265 City Centre Ave. about five years ago. A for lease sign now sits near its front entrance. 

Bereznai said financial pressures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic did not make it easy to survive. The business was forced to temporarily close during various rounds of lockdowns when sporting activities were deemed non-essential. 

“Between COVID closures, inflation and high interest rates, it has been a very difficult five years to be running a new business, leaving The Yard in the vulnerable position it is in,” he said. “Based on recent sales levels, we cannot afford our current costs, let alone an increase in rent for the next five years. To be viable, the business needs both healthy park attendance and shop sales.”

Bereznai said while park business has remained stable, shop sales have dropped as people spend less on leisure activities. 

The Yard currently pays about $40,000 a month in rent, taxes and interest payments. The indoor park is expected to close in March 2024.

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