The StratonHunter Group, a food and beverage management company is in the process of transforming the old Sears anchor building at the Station Mall into an upscale entertainment and dining centre. This is what people have wanted, more restaurant space with a vista to the Saint Mary’s River.
Although the plans and drawings all look good; there is an ominous admission that we have to now accept, no more anchor department stores! The mere fact that the old Sears anchor building is being subdivided into smaller diverse stores is the admission, by the “Pros”, that the anchor store is dead. The old-style department anchor store is dead, a relic of the past, well at least for Sault Ste. Marie.
So here goes sixty million dollars ($60,000,000) to turn the old Sears anchor building into an entertainment, dining, fitness and shopping centre. The premises will be “up-scaled”; implying a more expensive shopping and dining experience, hopefully maintaining a value proposition.
I am disappointed that we have thrown in the towel on the anchor store. I truly miss the old Sears and was desperately hoping for a replacement. Certainly what comes to mind is a Costco-type store. Station Mall desperately needed a Costco-type store to make it “the centre of it all”, again. Station Mall needed a Costco-type store that has the power of resurrecting the mall as a regional shopping centre; where people not just from our city, but from all over Algoma District came to the Sault to shop.
This is a major miss not just for the Station Mall but also a major failure for the Economic Development Corporation of Sault Ste. Marie. Tourism and shopping go hand in hand; it’s hard to have one without the other. How many times have you heard your friends/neighbours say “We are going to Traverse City to shop for the weekend”.
I find it difficult to see how the Station Mall is going to survive as a mall without a major anchor. A large shopping centre without proper anchors is what; a strip plaza? A strip plaza without a major grocery store is what; irrelevant, bankrupt?
It would seem that other strip plazas in our city are having a resurgence of business. New stores brought in by new investments in the plazas throughout the city are reviving the once semi-vacant strip plazas. These strip plazas around the city have always had the one ace in the hole to help them survive; housing density. The strip plazas around the city have a higher concentration of people living directly around them with higher household income levels.
This brings up the biggest problem with Station Mall; its location. In terms of its geography and demographics, Station Mall has the least amount of people living around it, in a three (3) kilometre radius, and a low average household income. So as a plaza; few people live around the Station Mall and have less disposable income. Not having a grocery store at the Station Mall has created a “food desert”.
APARTMENTS NOT CONDOS NEEDED:
The owners of the Station Mall must be keenly aware of this demographic dilemma. The only way to solve this problem is to actually have more people live around the Mall; therefore they have proposed building up to twelve (12) condominium buildings around the Station Mall.
With the vast empty parking lots, it seems like a good idea; however, condos don’t work in the Sault. Certainly, a lengthy blog for another time, but apartments not condos are essentially what are needed in the Sault.
Currently, there are over four thousand households in the Sault that are deemed families over-housed. Simply means that in these small family units, one or two people are living in a large house and are over-housed.
These are generally seniors, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) recently released a report indicating that “Canadian Seniors are opting to remain in their homes for longer”.
The report found the percentage of Canadians aged 75 and older who sold their homes fell steadily to 36% between 2016-2021, down from 41.6% between 1991-1996.
“In Canada, the proportion of elderly households who sell their property is elevated only in relatively advanced age group,” the report found. “It will therefore take another few years to see a truly significant portion of elderly households list their properties for sale.”
In Sault Ste. Marie, the biggest problem with getting seniors out of their homes is the lack of “attainable apartments for rent”. Not “affordable apartments”, but” attainable apartments”. The distinction here is that this cohort of seniors does not need affordable rentals as it has come to be understood, with government subsidies and geared to income. No, I am talking about market-rate apartment rentals that are attainably priced. Priced pointed where it makes sense for seniors to in fact sell their homes and move into an apartment. This cohort doesn’t need a subsidy, they need apartment pricing value.
The property around the Station Mall is a fantastic location for the creation of “attainable apartments”. This is exactly what is desperately needed in the Sault to solve our housing shortage. It is exactly the right demographic that the Station Mall needs for immediate housing density.
The demand nationwide is so great that the Federal Government just budgeted up to fifteen billion dollars for reduced building mortgage interest rates for the creation of “attainable apartments”.
So the demand is there, the property is there, the low-interest financing is there, now let’s see if the local Economic Development Leadership is there to get “attainable rentals done”!