Mall will have heritage look

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

Already home to some offbeat artistic and recreational stores and groups, an indoor mall is now being built at the site of the old Brantford Cordage rope factory on Sherwood Drive.
The 12-store, 2,800 square-metre mall will use the original architecture of one of the old buildings to both preserve history and offer a dramatically different look to a shopping area that aims to be the opposite of a traditional retail mall.
“We’re not trying to be like Lynden Park Mall but we are hoping to get some experienced local retailers who aren’t wanted by the big malls that want all the chain stores,” said developer Howard Rotberg.
His 4.5-hectare Artisans’ Village & Cultural District on Sherwood has been slowly growing and currently hosts more than 30 tenants in about 18,580 square metres of space.
The new mall, which will be called Heritage Park Mall in Artisans’ Village, will feature 12 indoor stores, two office suites, a historical exhibit area and a restaurant with outdoor patio.
Rotberg is holding a 465-square-metre space for an as-yet-to-be-determined larger use.
With the high ceilings of the original building, the developer says the stores will have an option of creating an upper level of 37 square metres that can be used for storage or office or retail space.
“Having grown up in Brantford, I like preserving some of our industrial heritage buildings,” said Rotberg who spent many hours of his youth in the downtown.
“The intention here is to make you feel like you’re walking down (the old) Colborne Street through the design of the stores and a ‘pretend’ second storey.”
He says the small mall will have lots of natural light, benches and trees.
The entire roof – a $200,000 project – has just been replaced with assistance of financing through Enterprise Brant.
Conceived as a local sister to the Toronto distillery district, the Artisans’ Village has also taken on a uniquely Brantford culture.
While Rotberg initially aimed for an artsy clientele and was a big supporter of the Brantford Arts Block, which had up to 900 square metres at the village before closing operations there in September 2015, he’s welcomed a new culture of fitness and sport-related groups, including Brantford Minor Baseball’s year-round training centre and a new karate facility.
“We’re also in talks with a basketball facility and a local track and field club.”
By planning to give West Brantford a mid-scale, family-type restaurant, he hopes to serve those dropping off kids at sports activities by providing a place to eat and shop.
Current tenants include a micro brewery, custom furniture maker, candle maker, photographer, the Brant Potters studio, a banquet hall, a liquidation store, some contractors, and G & L Ropes where Gino Mercante, who began working at the Cordage as a 15-year-old, continues to make ropes at the age of 75.
Formerly a Kitchener area lawyer, Rotberg has maintained a love of Brantford and its heritage.
He got the old Cordage property on a mortgage foreclosure almost two decades ago and paid off $400,000 in tax arrears, then spent more than $1 million on brownfield remediation, renovations, new roofs and paving.
Five years ago, local builder Dalip Multani became a partner in the venture and, in 2013, after a lawsuit was filed, Rotberg was able to buy out some former investors and get the suit dismissed.
“It’s been a mission of love and devotion to my hometown, which was also my mother’s hometown,” Rotberg says, noting he went through 20 years of “aggravation.”
“Now it has more than 30 tenants of all sorts paying affordable rents and our new 11-store-plus-restaurant mall.
“When the mall is finished I will mostly retire from development work and turn the management over to Multani’s property management division so I can concentrate on my writing and publishing.”