Saint John's 2 biggest malls put up for sale in less than 3 months

McAllister Place, Saint John's largest mall, was put up for sale by Primaris REIT at the end of June. (Graham Thomspson/CBC - image credit)
McAllister Place, Saint John's largest mall, was put up for sale by Primaris REIT at the end of June. (Graham Thomspson/CBC - image credit)

Saint John's largest shopping mall, McAllister Place, was recently put up for sale, barely three months after Brunswick Square.

But Deputy Mayor John MacKenzie said he hopes residents aren't downbeat about the prospects of those properties.

"Because they've seen the Brunswick Square situation for the last three or four years and they should see this as an opportunity for big improvement," he said.

Brunswick Square is a high-rise building uptown with mall space on the first three floors. The first two floors have a food court and a handful of vendors, and the third is completely empty.

WATCH | Saint John deputy mayor optimistic after two malls put up for sale:

"It hasn't been great news in quite a while," MacKenzie said.

"At one point when it was first built, it was full, it was driving a lot of restaurants in there, including McDonalds.… It just sort of went downhill over a period of time."

Lawtons Drugs, on the second floor, is the largest retailer in Brunswick Square. The floors above are office space and also connect to the Delta Hotel.

Brunswick Square, owned by Slate Office REIT, went up for sale in the beginning of April.
Brunswick Square, owned by Slate Office REIT, went up for sale in the beginning of April.

Brunswick Square, owned by Slate Office REIT, went up for sale at the beginning of April. (Nipun Tiwari/CBC)

"In terms of the other mall, McAllister … it's thriving. I mean there's 95 per cent occupancy. It's a business decision, but nothing to be afraid of," MacKenzie said.

"We need to realize that Saint John is doing well and we should be proud to be Saint Johners. And, you know, business decisions like that come and go every day in every city ... so don't be concerned."

'Regular course of business'

McAllister Place is owned by Primaris REIT, while Brunswick Square is owned by Slate Office REIT. Both companies are headquartered in Toronto.

Primaris REIT's portfolio is made up of many malls across the country, including Halifax Shopping Centre, which they bought last year for $370 million.

Saint John Deputy Mayor John Mackenzie says that he is optimistic for the prospects of Brunswick Square and unconcerned about McAllister Place because it is a well occupied space.
Saint John Deputy Mayor John Mackenzie says that he is optimistic for the prospects of Brunswick Square and unconcerned about McAllister Place because it is a well occupied space.

Saint John Deputy Mayor John MacKenzie says he's optimistic about the prospects of Brunswick Square and isn't concerned about McAllister Place because it is a well occupied space. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

For real-estate investment trusts such as Slate Office and Primaris REIT, buying and selling assets is a normal occurrence, said Bill MacAvoy, managing director of Cushman & Wakefield Atlantic, the contracted leasing agent for the office space and retail areas of McAllister Place.

"Primaries REIT is a large institutional player in commercial real estate in Canada," MacAvoy said.

"They would own many assets — buying and selling would be a regular course of business. So the decision to test the market here is in no way a reflection on how that mall is performing visa vie others in their portfolio."

Slate Office REIT declined interview requests from CBC News and Primarus REIT did not respond.

Slow death of the shopping mall?

Jim Cormier, Atlantic region director of the Retail Council of Canada, said whether we're seeing "the slow death of the shopping mall" is a common question.

"We don't believe that's true," Cormier said.

"What we're finding is that the successful malls across the country, they've been changing the way they do business over the last number of years … changing their business operations completely, getting more attractive interiors instead of it being a more simply a transactional place, trying to encourage people to come in and stay."

Bill MacAvoy, the Managing Director of Cushman & Wakefield Atlantic, says that for real estate investing trusts buying and selling assets is a normal occurrence.
Bill MacAvoy, the Managing Director of Cushman & Wakefield Atlantic, says that for real estate investing trusts buying and selling assets is a normal occurrence.

Bill MacAvoy, managing director of Cushman & Wakefield Atlantic, says that for real estate investing trusts, buying and selling assets is a normal occurrence. (Zoom)

He said mall owners who have made efforts to reinvigorate their mall with a mix of popular retailers, food options and amenities have seen more success.

"You're seeing housing, condos, apartments being built sometimes right on top of existing shopping malls, creating almost self-contained neighbourhoods, just trying to turn it into more of a place where people can go and stay for hours to have an entertainment option for them," he said.

Jim Cormier, Atlantic region director of the Retail Council of Canada says "whether we're seeing the slow death of the shopping mall" is a common question and says that malls that have adapted to a changing environment have performed well.
Jim Cormier, Atlantic region director of the Retail Council of Canada says "whether we're seeing the slow death of the shopping mall" is a common question and says that malls that have adapted to a changing environment have performed well.

Jim Cormier, Atlantic region director of the Retail Council of Canada, says malls that have adapted to a changing business environment have performed well. (Zoom)

MacAvoy and MacKenzie also do not think malls are obsolete.

"Online e-commerce has changed the landscape, but retail malls still have a purpose. You know, there's a variety of demographics that prefer to see, touch and feel," MacAvoy said.

"If in-person shopping is a concern in Saint John, it's a concern everywhere," MacKenzie said.

"Online shopping is having an effect everywhere … and if you've got 95 per cent occupancy in your largest mall in the city, then I would say that you're doing pretty well."