Tuesday night was another busy evening for community meetings and events. I attended the latest 13th Avenue Safeway Store public information meeting, held at the Cathedral Neighbourhood Centre (for more on the first meeting, see this post).
I thought the meeting went well: both residents and applicant effectively articulated their points-of-view. I feel that both groups could be disappointed, however, that there seems to be little room for compromise.
The most telling example of the lack of compromise came when the question was asked: why does Safeway want to change a building so many enjoy and admire, for something very ordinary? Why doesn’t Safeway have respect for their own building? The direct answer was that the building didn’t work for Safeway any longer. The reasons behind Safeway’s branding weren’t explained well, but the corporation’s representative made it clear the Marina design was out.
Basically, Safeway is looking to brand its stores a certain way and older brands no longer fit. There is a life-style brand that Safeway insists on and this can be customized, as in this case, but requires certain design guidelines.
For example, part of the aesthetic of the re-branded facade is the use of windows, especially in the entrance way. Much of these windows do not function (allow light in or visuals out). That may lead to less natural light and a greater reliance on internal (theatrical) lighting, a key Safeway branding tool.
Many community disliked theatrical lighting and the sense of a placeless that reducing functioning window space may create inside.
The applicants did their best to stress urgency in approving the project. Delays, it was warned, could see market share shift further to the Grasslands Wal-Mart (a particular villain among competitors) and could damage the location’s viability. The low margins (2% was a figure mentioned) in the grocery industry was a further factor impeding an expensive redevelopment. The applicant stated early on that, although Safeway is a large corporation, the decision to renew 13th Avenue Safeway was down to the viability of that store alone. Store size correlated to profitability and was important in the phased development plan. With the store never closing during construction, new spaces would have to be open so older spaces could be renovated or rebuilt.
The mural on Robinson Street was the most heated issue. Councillor Clipsham was in attendance and he explained how he got in contact with Bob Boyer’s widow in an attempt to retain or reproduce the mural. It was clear that she supported maintaining the mural if possible but that it shouldn’t be reproduced in any way.
Community members expressed various ideas about preservation with the proponents simply saying all options are possible if it’s a priority. It was mentioned that a costly preservation could take funds away from other amenities such as benches or new art work. The representative from P3 Architecture expressed concern over the stability of the West wall and suggested, regardless of precautions, any removal would damage the bricks and ultimately the mural.