Peter Nygård — Fashion Maven

The Finnish born head of Nygård International may only spned about six weeks a year in Winnipeg, but he hasn't forgotten his Canadian roots.

Peter Nygård spends only about six weeks out of the year in Winnipeg, where he launched his international clothing business more than 35 years ago. He lives in the Bahamas and recently acquired a building in Times Square, New York, which is slated to become his company's new world headquarters in May 2006. But the Finnish-born head of Nygård International, who ranks 66th on our Rich 100 list with a net worth of $589 million, isn't forgetting his roots. To prove it, he's spending tens of millions of dollars to redevelop Winnipeg's historical Exchange District. “This is the early part of Winnipeg, so it's as old as you can get,” says Nygård. “It's the original garment district, and it's where I started my business.”

The idea behind Nygård Village is to turn a lane in the area, Elgin Avenue, into a glassed-in atrium, much like Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston. A passageway would then connect the atrium to the shores of the Red River. Nygård has teamed up with Arni Thorsteinson of Shelter Canadian Properties, which has specialized in the acquisition and redevelopment of Winnipeg heritage buildings. Together, they own most of the buildings on either side of the proposed atrium. “It would all be redeveloped into some parking structures, restaurants, a boutique hotel, office space and condominiums,” says Thorsteinson. Nygård envisions capturing the “old '50s theme” of having a place where you “live, work and play, all in one area.”

But first they need approval from the City of Winnipeg. Since the passageway to the waterfront would require shutting down a street and acquiring some city-owned property, the proposal is hung up at city hall. Thorsteinson expects a resolution by March, but some plans are already underway. In April, Nygård opened a 10,000-square-foot store, called Nygård Fashion World, in the 89-year-old Stanley Brock Building. Next on the agenda are the proposed condominiums. Nygård's also working to create a fashion museum in the area. “It adds a cultural feature to the site,” he says. “We moved the shack that I used to live in when I first immigrated to Canada, to Winnipeg. We're planning on putting that as part of the museum, to tie together Winnipeg fashion as well as my own beginnings in Winnipeg and Canada.”

The cost of the entire project is pegged between $70 million and $90 million, with Nygård picking up the largest portion of the tab. “Every city has its old city,” he says. “And this is Winnipeg's old city. It may become the most unique part of Winnipeg.”