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Woodbine Going Through Dino-Sized Revitalization

While many suburban malls are going the way of the dinosaur, the Woodbine Mall is counting on dinosaurs to lead the way in reviving its fortunes.

Animatronic dinosaurs at Woodbine Mall

“We want to keep the mall family-friendly,” said Chris Hinn, president and CEO of Consolidated Group of Canada Limited/Prime Real Estate Holdings Corp., the mall's owner. “We want it to be a destination place. A family day out.”

The mall — to be rebranded as Woodbine Village — has been a fixture in Etobicoke since 1985 both as shopping centre and the home of Fantasy Fair, Ontario’s largest indoor amusement park.

As malls work to figure out how best to draw in crowds, many are turning to offering experiences along with retail. Woodbine Mall had struggled under its previous ownership.

The centre sold for $104M in 2016.

The entrance to Woodbine Mall

Hinn said the first stages of the multibillion-dollar, four-year mall renovation project have included $57M in improvements, including new asphalt for the parking lot, new LED lighting, doors and seating, and improved washrooms and food courts.

“We plan to replace the floors this week,” Hinn said. “It’d been 14 years since anyone had spent any money on the exterior or the interior of the mall.”

While some of the improvements have been subtle, the life-size animatronic dinosaurs are not. They dominate the revitalized Fantasy Fair. The park, which features a carousel, bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, a train and a rock climbing wall, hosts as many as 4,000 birthday parties a year.

Families line up at Woodbine Mall's Fantasy Fair

“We plan on adding more animatronics and a wax museum with 160 characters,” Hinn said. “You really need to grab people these days.”

Since the beginning of renovations, attendance at the fair has doubled. Still, it is just a drop in the bucket to what the future holds for the Woodbine project.

A mall expansion of 600K SF into the existing parking lot is in the works. It would include three performance stages that will help accommodate an increasingly busy summer festival schedule.

The mall also plans to add a supermarket, replace the now-empty anchor store Sears with an LA Fitness outlet and add several marquee restaurants. Outside the mall, there will be a new hotel with a water park and residential condos.

And do not forget the Woodbine Racetrack and OLG Slots casino just across the street. The Woodbine Entertainment Group recently announced its own ambitious expansion plans that will include a theater and hotel.

“There is lots of destination appeal,” Hinn said.