Brenna Morfitt – Artis REIT
It’s easy for residents and visitors in Winnipeg, Manitoba, to see how the 300 Main mixed-use high-rise is becoming a downtown landmark. After all, it’s the tallest building in the city.
It towers over Portage and Main streets at one of the Canadian city’s most famous intersections. It offers 395 apartments with one, two and three bedrooms and its 40th floor has drawn public attention as a potential community space with unparalleled views, says Brenna Morfitt.
Morfitt, the director of construction and development for Artis REIT, 300 Main’s developers, says people may overlook what’s going on below ground, though. Because as she guides tower construction to its conclusion this year, she’s also beginning to focus on how to reinvigorate the 45-year-old mall underneath the building.
“We’re adding something to the downtown core of Winnipeg that hasn’t existed,” Morfitt says. “300 Main is amenity rich and luxurious and I’ve been able to use my organizational skills and experience and had creative freedom to help build a place where people can live their full lives and create memories.”
Headquartered in Winnipeg and publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange, Artis REIT (the acronym stands for real estate investment trust) has a portfolio of more than 134 industrial, office and retail properties, including 50 in the U.S. In all, the company has about 15.5 million square feet of leasable space.
The 580,000-square-foot 300 Main project was underway well before Morfitt joined Artis REIT, and time has been of the essence to complete the high-rise to fulfill all requirements of the Live Downtown – Rental Development Grant the company was awarded by the city—and to finally get tenants into building, she says.
When Morfitt joined the company in July 2021, she was tasked with getting 300 Main completed. A large portion of the tower was finished, but there were design changes to consider for adding amenities and meeting changing expectations from renters.
For more than six months, Morfitt met with architects and planners. Together, they added features including a 1,000-square-foot pet playground on the second floor that enables residents to avoid walking their dogs outdoors in cold Canadian winters. The second floor also includes a 10,000-square-foot outdoor terrace, private dining areas and a co-working space.
The lobby was upgraded with high-end furniture, a floor-to-ceiling fireplace, a moss wall representing downtown Winnipeg with different colored mosses for city landmarks and chandeliers made with handblown glass. And while the 40th floor has garnered notice from the public, it was redesigned for tenant-only use to include a games room with billiards, arcade games and a poker table. The floor also has private reading nooks, a kitchen and dining room, and two outdoor patios with fireplaces.
“I try to put myself in the place of the tenant and ask what I would expect for the rent I’m paying,” Morfitt says.
She and Artis REIT are also working with Winnipeg-based 26 Projects to promote 300 Main and create its brand. 26 Projects provides services including content strategy, copywriting, digital marketing and influencer management.
“We love them. They’re helping grow our social media and creating a presence for the building,” Morfitt says. “We want tenants to use 300 Main as a social calendar and know where to find events, shopping and activities downtown.”
The mall comes next
While working to add amenities and make design changes, Morfitt says she also used her background in construction management to get the project back on schedule after delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and winter weather.
As she chatted with Blueprint in March, Morfitt says Artis REIT had taken possession of the first 20 stories of 300 Main and was preparing for occupancy in July. She expects the building to be fully finished by the end of the year or early in 2024.
The 300 Main high-rise caps redevelopment in Winnipeg’s downtown dating to the late 1970s. Morfitt says a hotel was originally planned for the site, so foundations for a tower were in place when the project was revised to provide residential housing. The high-rise is also linked to 330 Main, a retail building, as well as the 30-story Class A office building at 360 Main and the city’s skywalk system built to shield pedestrians from winter weather.
What’s under 300 Main is Morfitt’s next concern. The underground mall, called Winnipeg Square, opened in 1980 and has been owned by Artis REIT since 2010. However, she says Winnipeg Square needs refreshing in its look and the stores and services it offers.
Mall renovations are in the early planning stages, but Morfitt says the food court will be upgraded and she’ll be looking for new anchor tenants while adding to the range of retail offerings and services. Morfitt says mall business should be refocused to meet the needs of nearly 1,000 new downtown renters as well as the customers who work in downtown offices.
“We will serve everyone,” Morfitt says. “This will be more than focusing on people who are downtown between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.”
Morfitt also gets to enjoy guiding a transformation in her hometown. The Winnipeg native says she was always a creative kid and considered engineering as a career as she grew up.
Architecture also served her creativity well, although as she studied for the bachelor’s degree in environmental and interior design she earned from the University of Manitoba in 2007, project management was not part of the program.
Morfitt joined EQ3 after graduating, where she helped design furniture stores and developed her project management skills. She has also been a project coordinator at Maxim Truck and Trailer, and a project manager at Emergent BioSolutions and Princess Auto Ltd.
During those years, she also earned a certification in project management at Red River College Polytechnic and a graduate diploma in leadership and management from Athabasca University.
Joining Artis REIT culminates her career and allows her to apply the range of her skillset, she says.
“I love the creativity of architecture,” Morfitt says. “Building tangible things is where my heart is and I very much enjoy working with a team to get that done.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. V 2023 Edition here.
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