Island’s largest shopping mall turns 30

Nanaimo's largest taxpayer celebrates 30 years in the community on Friday.

Ironworker Cody Okano stays teathered to his perch atop a man-lift as steps out to guide a sling of roofing panels being craned onto the trusses atop the Wal-mart expansion at Woodgrove Centre Tuesday. Woodgrove

Ironworker Cody Okano stays teathered to his perch atop a man-lift as steps out to guide a sling of roofing panels being craned onto the trusses atop the Wal-mart expansion at Woodgrove Centre Tuesday. Woodgrove

Nanaimo’s largest taxpayer celebrates 30 years in the community on Friday.

Woodgrove Centre, the Island’s biggest shopping mall, is home to about 150 stores in 724,000 square feet of retail space. It employs an estimated 1,100 workers and nets about 5.8 million visits per year.

Local developer Deane Finlayson began work on the idea of building a regional shopping centre in Nanaimo in the 1970s.

“His perception at the time was that there wasn’t sufficient retail space [in Nanaimo],” said Jonathan Dallison, Woodgrove’s marketing director. “A lot of people were going elsewhere for their shopping.”

Finlayson bought the land, which was originally included in the Agriculture Land Reserve, and in 1978, the City of Nanaimo approved his proposal.

Negotiations with various levels of government and prospective anchor tenants took some time.

Before Woodgrove opened on Sept. 30, 1981, with Eaton’s and Woodward’s as its main tenants and 530,000 square feet of retail space, another mall – what is now Nanaimo North Town Centre – was approved and built.

The timing of the centre’s opening couldn’t have been worse, said Dallison, as it was right when the recession hit and interest rates skyrocketed. While Finlayson initially thought he would be able to fill the mall easily, only 53 per cent of it was leased out when it opened and it took almost two years to become 75-per cent occupied.

But the centre survived and then outgrew its space.

An expansion in 2000 added 230,000 square feet of retail space.

“The time was right,” said Dallison. “There were several very strong years right after that.”

In 30 years, the centre has only changed hands completely once.

Finlayson sold Woodgrove to Cambridge in 1984, which became Ivanhoe Cambridge in 2001. Primaris came on as a 50 per cent, non-managing partner in 2009 for strategic reasons.

Due to its location – where the Island Highway and the Nanaimo Parkway converge – the centre’s main customers are residents of Nanaimo, Parksville and Qualicum.

Dallison said the centre also gets customers from Duncan and all points in between Duncan and Nanaimo, Courtenay and Comox, Campbell River and Port Alberni.

“We’re the place that has the choice,” he said. “We’ve got some stores that are not anywhere else on the Island.”

 

 

Woodgrove Centre is celebrating its 30th birthday this Friday by offering patrons some good deals and a chance to win some gift cards.

Between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday, the first 300 shoppers who spend $30 or more in the mall to present their receipts to guest services will receive a $30 Woodgrove gift card.

Participating retailers will also offer patrons 30 per cent off select merchandise Friday evening.

On top of this, the centre is also launching a contest to win $30,000 in Woodgrove gift cards.

Between Sept. 30 and Oct. 29, people can enter the contest at one of two kiosks that will be set up in the mall.

Shoppers can enter the contest once a day for 30 days and those who spend $30 or more before taxes can also earn one extra entry per day.

The winner will be by random draw on Oct. 29, so the more times people enter, the better the chances.

Jonathan Dallison, marketing director, said the centre wanted to give back to the community that has allowed it to thrive for three decades.

“It’s really a strong relationship the centre has had with the community over the past 30 years,” he said.