Stavanger faces uncertain future

The once busy St. John’s shopping area is in decline as stores flee.

Exxon Mobile office building on Hebron Way.
The ExxonMobil building on Hebron Way was completed recently. It is one of the new additions to the area. Henrike Wilhelm/Kicker

Henrike Wilhelm

The exodus of stores from Stavanger Drive, including wholesaler Costco, has resulted in a number of empty buildings in the once busy shopping area.

Rona, Pier 1 and now Princess Auto, which is making the move to Galway, are only some of the businesses that have closed or fled Stavanger recently. It’s left many wondering about the future of the area.

Maggie Burton, councillor-at-large for St. John’s, believes all is not lost.

“It’s important for me to acknowledge that this is an area that is in a bit of a transition right now,” said Burton. 

Burton emphasizes, however, the city has a keen interest in keeping Stavanger Drive attractive for both businesses and shoppers. She points to recent developments on Torbay Road North and Hebron Way like the Verafin and ExxonMobil office buildings and small retailers.

“When Costco left to go to Galway and then Target closed a while back too, it created two massive empty buildings and we’re gonna see the effects of that for some time.”

The city doesn’t have power over if and when new businesses, says Burton, move to the empty buildings and it can’t force developers to do something with them.

“It’s a bit more reactionary than you might think,” said Burton. “Once the big buildings are already built, there’s not a lot the city can actually do.”

“This is not how we should be building our cities. Period.”

– Nicholas Lynch, assistant professor for geography at Memorial University

Nicholas Lynch is an assistant professor of geography at Memorial University. Costco’s move, he says, has resulted in yet another empty parking lot.

“One of the things that I personally and anecdotally hate about Stavanger is an example of a dysfunctional retail landscape,” said Lynch. “What happens is they create these pockets, these islands of parking and retail buildings that are disconnected from each other. They’re literally islands of parking and you have to jump from parking lot to parking lot. I think it’s completely maddening and it’s really too bad.”

The large, disconnected parking spots, says Lynch, and missing linkage points to the city make it hard to imagine something else other than a commercial area.

He feels the Stavanger Drive shopping area is tailored to shoppers with cars and this layout has an effect on the general atmosphere of the area.

“They’re trying to cater to the car-friendly consumer who wants to load their car up with a whole bunch of stuff and get back on the highway and get out of here,” said Lynch. “These are not places that people want to spend much time in. And this is not how we should be building our cities. Period.”

“Right now there’s just not a lot of appetite for a big space like that in an existing building.”

– Maggie Burton, councillor-at-large for the City of St. John’s

Burton acknowledges that Stavanger isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly, but explains that the city is working on solutions to make the area more accessible for shoppers without a car.

“One of the things we can generally do in the city is to make the bus more usable and come at more frequent intervals and be a reliable service for people who don’t drive,” said Burton.

Clearing sidewalks and bus shelters of snow, she says, is also part of encouraging pedestrians to frequent Stavanger Drive and its stores. She agrees that many areas in Canadian cities were designed to cater to drivers.

“Box-store developments were created with the automobile in mind. The post-World-War-II period in Canada, we’ve been going towards more car-centric cities and this is just one example of a car-centric development design, for sure,” said Burton.

One way to breathe new life into Stavanger, says Lynch, is a more diverse use of the buildings.

“Take some of the space that’s there that may not be in use, if you can, turn them into cultural activity spaces where people want to be and spend time in. Then they may actually want to spend money in some of these retail spaces, so that might revive them,” he said.

Burton confirms that a new tenant on Stavanger Drive doesn’t necessarily have to be a retailer. She says nobody stops community organizations from coming forward with an idea for a rezoning purpose, for example a rollerblade arena in the old Target building.

“But that has to be driven by the community or by the private businesses in the city and not necessarily by the city itself,” she said. “We don’t have the resources to do it.”

According to Burton, the size of the Target and Costco old locations could make finding a new tenant complicated.

“Right now there’s just not a lot of appetite for a big space like that in an existing building.”

About Henrike Wilhelm 14 Articles
Student journalist in my second year at CNA. International student from Germany living in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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