Future Shop joins AMC; Virgin to follow

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By Allan Woods

After almost four years of delays and uncertainty surrounding the proposed Metropolis entertainment complex at Yonge and Dundas Streets, the flashing, neon jewel is almost ready to be placed in the city’s crown.

Last Monday, Canadian retailer Future Shop signed on with Metropolis developer PenEquity Management Corp. to build its flagship store in the complex.

And Virgin Entertainment, a multinational company that sells everything from Cds to soda pop to transatlantic flights, is in the final stages of a deal to set up a megastore similar to one in New York’s Times Square, a source close to the deal confirmed.

The Times Square store — the largest of its kind in the world — carries CDs, books and videos, hosts in-store concerts and appearances by musicians.

The two newcomers would join AMC theatres — which plans to build a 24-screen movie theatre — a bowling alley, five American restaurants, and two other unsigned tenants in the $90-million endeavor.

Construction could begin as early as March and is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months.

Future Shop’s current location, just north of Yonge and Gould Streets, will close at about the same time its new, hi-tech, approximately 2,500-square-metre store in the Metropolis complex opens. If all goes to plan, Metropolis will open in the fall of 2002.

“We’re relieved because we’ve wanted a better downtown location for years,” said Gary Patterson, executive v.p. and chief financial officer of Future Shop Inc.

The electronics company has been negotiating with PenEquity for the past 18 months, Patterson said, but was uncertain about signing a deal with the developer until the project began to take a more definite shape.

Patterson also said he has heard that Virgin Entertainment was close to signing a deal to set up a megastore in the building. He said he expects the company to greatly increase the profile of the venue.

“If Virgin goes in there it will be a real tourist attraction,” he said. “It will be great for downtown Toronto and it will be great for us.”

A spokesperson for Virgin Entertainment declined to comment on the Metropolis project when contacted in California.

Developments in the last month have overshadowed Metropolis’ long and difficult past.

The original proposal called for a 30-screen AMC movie theatre to be completed by last Christmas, but the Kansas-based firm scaled down its plans to 24 screens, causing speculation that the company was facing financial hardships.

Development was further stalled when negotiations between PenEquity and Disney Quest — a Playdium-like version of Walt Disney World — were called off.

“There was nothing wrong with Toronto or the developer’s plans,” said John Few, director of real estate and business development with Disney Quest. “Toronto was something. We were very serious about Toronto.”

PenEquity invested 18 months in the deal and spent almost $700,000 on designs for the site before the company backed out.

Disney Quest representatives said they called the deal off because they were “reassessing [their] product,” not because of any problems with the city or the proposal.

“It was only recently [PenEquity] assured us it would go ahead,” Patterson said.

Ryerson’s v.p. administration and student affairs, Linda Grayson, expressed her uncertainty about the completion of the theatres as recently as last month, but said PenEquity had assured her in a December conversation that the project was back on track.

The university plans to use the theatres as lecture halls in the 2002/2003 school year, to meet the extra demand for class space put on the university when two years of students graduate high school in 2003.

With files from Gavin Mackenzie

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