By Geoff Kirbyson
True North Square is still under construction but its impact is already being felt in Winnipeg's downtown office market.
The new owners of the NewPort Center have already begun a multi-million-dollar upgrade to the nearly 50-year-old building's interior and exterior. By the time the upgrades are completed in 2020, 330 Portage Avenue will have been transformed from what they consider to be a B- building into a B+.
The renovations will include exterior glazing, upgrades to the elevators, lobbies, common areas and washrooms and a repositioning of the entrance way to attract a large restaurateur. In May, a skywalk-level conference room will be complete and ready for use by tenants.
As specialists in retrofitting and upgrading buildings, KingSett Capital and CCI Corpfin Capital were attracted to the NewPort Center because it hadn't had any major renovations since it was built in 1970.
Without question its most attractive feature was its location in the heart of the Sports, Hospitality & Entertainment District (SHED), just across Hargrave Street from the home of the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose and the site of dozens of concerts and other events every year.
"We're at center ice," said Linda Capar, Winnipeg-based senior associate with Avison Young, which is handling the leasing of the building.
"We're connected through the skywalk (to Bell MTS Place) and we'll benefit from the traffic at True North Square and upgrade to the SHED from that development."
True North Square, a $400-million, four-tower mixed use project, is under development with the first office tower scheduled to open in June 2018.
It has already signed up a number of long-term tenants who are relocating from Portage and Main, including Scotiabank, law firm Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP and accounting and consulting firm MNP.
It's estimated this transformative project will pump an estimated $500 million of investment capital into downtown Winnipeg by the time it's all completed in 2020. The plans call for it to feature more than one million square feet of residential, retail, hotel, office, parking and public space, shared among all four towers.
NewPort Center, which has 18-storeys and 151,000 square feet of space, had a vacancy rate of 18% when it was purchased last summer, but it has since fallen to 8%, thanks primarily to the recent arrival of a government tenant into 6,300 square feet.
Prospective tenants can choose from turn-key model suites of 1,000 square feet up to a full floor of 9,000 square feet. A show suite of more than 2,300 square feet on the 18th floor will be ready for occupancy in April.
The owners are "actively pursuing" tenants that require new space and want to be in the heart of the action in the SHED.
Gord Wiebe, president and CEO of CCI Corpfin, said NewPort Center is the first office asset in Winnipeg for CCI Corpfin Capital and KingSett Capital but he's optimistic more will follow.
"We're always looking. We haven't found anything near the quality of (the NewPort Center) so far of what we'd like to buy," he said.
That wasn't the case in London, Ont., where CCI Corpfin Capital and Kingsett Capital recently purchased the WestMount Center, an enclosed mall, for $31.5 million.
"There haven't been that many opportunities in Winnipeg to buy true value-add buildings," Wiebe said. "And there's never been this kind of momentum. There is a real change in the attitude of people in Winnipeg and that's driving a downtown renaissance. True North and the SHED are the drivers behind it. We are capitalizing on this with a unique office space opportunity that takes full advantage of the major investment in the area."
Newport Center’s large windows provide an abundance of natural light and its common area upgrades to the corridors and washrooms will begin in 2018.
It has 20 tenants, including the Bank of Montreal, Rogers Communications, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Investors Group Financial Services and the Public Utilities Board of Manitoba.