Saskatoon MEC to occupy current Midtown Plaza food court location

Saskatoon MEC to occupy current Midtown Plaza food court location
Ready for its close-up: Rear of Midtown Plaza getting some love under $80M reno plan
Midtown Plaza general manager Terry Napper says Saskatoons MEC location will take over the space currently occupied by the malls food court.

The announced addition of Mountain Equipment Co-op to Midtown Plaza in Saskatoon is prompting extensive changes to the layout of Saskatchewan’s biggest shopping mall.

One day after the announcement that MEC plans to open its first Saskatchewan store in May 2020, Midtown Plaza general manager Terry Napper revealed that the popular outdoor clothing and equipment company will take over the space currently occupied by the mall’s food court.

The new food court will be moved to the second floor of the space that was vacated in the fall of 2017 by Sears.

The food court will continue to operate in its current space until July 24, 2019 and will reopen in its new space the next day, on July 25. There will be room for 16 food court vendors, similar to what already exists in the mall, Napper said.

“Take a look at the existing food court. How old is it? And it certainly needs to be cleaned up.”

The plan is for the first floor of the Sears space to be divided into roughly a dozen retail spaces. Napper said there have been no confirmed retailers to fill those spots.

George Bevan, director of store development for MEC, said Wednesday that the Vancouver-based company has been actively looking for more than five years for a suitable space to open a location in Saskatoon. Development of the citys bus rapid transit system, which will service the downtown, is one of the factors drawing MEC to Midtown, he said.

MEC provides services to cyclists and he would like to see improvements in the city’s downtown cycling infrastructure to make it easier for cyclists to get to the mall, he added.

Bevan said Saskatchewan has more than 60,000 MEC members, including 25,000 in Saskatoon, who have been asking for a Saskatchewan location for more than a decade.

“We’re really happy to finally be here. We’ve been asked by members for a long, long time and we have been looking and it’s great to be finally here and part of a development that is really in the downtown core, part of the rejuvenation of the centre and the downtown itself,” Bevan said.

MEC’s capital investment in its new store will be between $2 and $3 million and will create 50 new jobs when it opens, he said. The store will have 16,000 square feet of retail space, plus 4,000 square feet for services, including a bike shop and a community room that can be rented out by local groups.

The store will offer run clubs and free clinics, on topics such as how to fix bikes and what equipment to use to go backcountry camping.

That's the major takeaway from the updated $80-million renovation plans shared by Saskatoon's largest mall on Wednesday.

Not only will the rear of the downtown mall be home to the city's first Mountain Equipment Co-op, as announced Tuesday.

But newly revealed plans for the larger mall renovation show a vastly transformed back half of the shopping centre facing busy Idylwyld Drive.

The former Sears building — currently a brutalist concrete slab lined with blocky outcroppings — will become a sleeker, window-strewn complex.

No retailers have signed leases for first-floor space yet, said Terry Napper, the Calgary-based manager of the Midtown Plaza.

But Napper said MEC's announcement that it will open a store in late May 2020, in the space currently taken up by the mall's existing food court, is "quite a statement."

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark agreed that MEC's arrival bodes well for the mall, especially given the departure of its anchor tenant, Sears, earlier this year.

"When Sears went down, there [was] a question mark: 'OK, what's the future of Midtown going to look like?'" said Clark.  

"[We want] to make sure that the engine and heartbeat that Midtown has represented is able to help with the redefinition and rejuvenation of our downtown."

Clark, who grew up in B.C. where MEC is based, reminisced about his first purchase from the store in 1993: a backpack he said served him well during a six-month backpacking trip.

George Bevan, MEC's director of store development, said the co-op has 60,000 members in Saskatchewan, including 25,000 members in Saskatoon, despite not having a brick-and-mortar location in the province. 

The Saskatoon MEC store, measuring 20,000 square feet, will cost between $2 million and $3 million, Bevan said.

This past summer, city councillors approved a five-year, $2.8-million tax abatement for the Midtown Plaza renovations.

Napper said Wednesday that none of the savings from that abatement will be used to cover costs related to MEC's move into the current food-court space or any renovations (such as the months-long overhaul of the main mall concourse) that predated the June announcement about the $80-million overhaul.

The new MEC store will include a bike shop and reside in a mall that's already home to a Sport Chek.

"Sport Chek is probably happy that Mountain Equipment is coming to Midtown," said Napper. "Better off to have them adjacent to the Sport Chek store because, to be honest with you, it will compliment their sales as well."

Plans for the rear half of the mall also include new landscaping along Idylwyld Drive, plus a new back entrance flanked by a new coffee shop (which one is still to be determined).

The plans come as the city hopes to make Idylwyld Drive more pedestrian-friendly by adding multi-use pathways along the busy corridor, which may include separated lanes for cyclists.

"Our priorities are to do with easy access," said MEC's Bevan, adding that cyclists are a key part of the company's demographic.

The city's Imagine Idylwykd plan also contemplates reducing the pedestrian crossing time at the intersection of Idylwyld and 20th Street — the gateway between the downtown core and the adjacent Riversdale area — to one minute from two minutes.

Randy Pshebylo, the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District, said he supports that reduced crossing time.

It is a priority for CBC to create a website that is accessible to all Canadians including people with visual, hearing, motor and cognitive challenges.