Co-op and Zen Developments ink deal for downtown building in Neepawa


By: Kate Jackman-Atkinson

If all goes to plan, by the end of this year, Neepawa Gladstone Co-op will have a new food store and administration building on Highway 16 and Neepawa will have 14 new condo units downtown.

On Tuesday, the company announced their plans for both the new buildings and the existing food store and administration building located in downtown Neepawa.

Construction on the new buildings is expected to begin early in the spring of 2013 with competition of the administration office in the fall of 2013 and the food store by the end of 2013.

Neepawa-Gladstone Co-op general manager Brian Hedley explained their decision to build the new store on the highway saying that the building’s size “doesn’t fit anywhere downtown”.  He added that they couldn’t really reconfigure the existing location to accommodate a bigger store as well as upgrades.

The new food store will be located to the west of the Co-op gas bar and the new administration building will be located to the south of the food store, on the other side of a service road.  This marks a change from the company’s original plans, which would have seen a cardlock at the front of the former Happy Bill’s Esso property and the food store behind, with the administration on the second floor of food store.

Hedley talked about some of the reasons behind the new plan saying that with new building codes and escalating costs, the Co-op found that building a separate administration office was more cost effective than having it above the food store.  This is a trend being seen in new Co-op food stores across the prairies. Hedley continued saying, “With the purchase of the Agassiz Drive-In, we were able to move the store closer toward Highway 16 and this allowed us to not have to worry about service roads anymore.”  The higher elevation of that site also meant about $1 million in savings in site preparation and utility costs.

Talking about the project, Hedley said, “The timing is right, with low interest rates and community growth, we’re pretty optimistic.”

The project is expected to cost around $6 million, between $4 million and $5 million of which will come from money already set aside for the project. Hedley said that the project is the largest undertaken by the Co-op. Co-op currently employs 130 people in total and the new store is expected to ultimately require additional staff.

At 20,500 square feet, the new store will be almost double the size of the current 12,000 square foot store.

Hedley says the new store is being designed with the newest merchandising and refrigeration equipment. Hedley explained that when the store was renovated in 1996, the old refrigeration equipment was kept and refurbished to save costs. “We have been struggling for years with out current refrigeration equipment and breakdowns… Our fresh departments have struggled with equipment issues and as a result product quality at times.” Additionally, changes in how products are handled will improve staff efficiency. The new store will have close to 100 parking spots, similar to what they have now, as well as room for large vehicles like campers and motorhomes. The expanded floor space will also mean the addition of new merchandise and Hedley said they will be focusing on additional deli, home meal replacement and ethnic foods, “The fresh department is where we’re really focusing.”

Hedley acknowledged customer concerns about physically getting to a highway location. Hedley said that they have been working with the Handi Van to create a way for customers to be picked up and taken shopping, then, Co-op will deliver the groceries to their door later in the day. He said they are looking at a three day a week service with a different pickup location each day.

Tentatively planned pick up locations are be Elks Manor, Kinsmen Kourts/Yellowhead Manor and the former Co-op food store location.

Once Co-op moves to their new location, the current food store and old service station will be sold to Zen Developments for redevelopment into condos and commercial space. Hedley explained that the goal was to find a solution for vacating the facilities downtown and creating a win-win situation for their loyal tenants, the community and Co-op itself. The sale of the old food store will be finalized in early 2014, once the Co-op has moved into the new facilities.

Talking about the redevelopment of the of the current food store, Zen Developments president James Janzen explained they will tailor their project to the needs of the community but at this time, they are looking at building 14 one and two bedroom condo units on the building’s second floor and keeping the main floor as commercial space.

John Lavich, Zen Development’s secretary, said that they are keeping in contact with the building’s current tenants and working with them.

The condo units will be for sale and Zen is hoping the first person will be moving in some time in 2014. Lavich said that depending on interest, the units may be 55-plus units.

Zen Developments has also taken an option to purchase land to the south of the Co-op gas bar originally planned for a card lock. Hedley explained that they decided that the potential for multi-dwelling units was a better fit for the land. A new location for a card lock will be determined at a later date.

The value of the deal isn’t being made public at this time.

In photo: Neepawa-Gladstone Co-op General Manager Brian Hedley (center) with John Lavich (left) and James Janzen of Zen Developments with the plans for the new Co-op Food Store.  Once Co-op moves into their new location, Zen will purchase the current downtown food store for redevelopment into condo units and commercial space.

Photo by Kate Jackman-Atkinson