Ottawa satellite firm Telesat moving downtown with new Place Bell lease


As Telesat prepares to turn 50 next year, the satellite technologies firm is preparing to move from its east-end campus to two floors inside the office tower at 160 Elgin St. as part of a bid to attract new talent.

Within the next 18 months, Telesat will move into the 20th and 21st floors of H&R REIT’s Place Bell building in a multi-year lease amounting to roughly 76,000 square feet of space. The firm has rights to most of the space today, but CEO Dan Goldberg tells OBJ they’ll take their time making the move.

The shift downtown will take Telesat out of Telesat Court, the eponymous Gloucester street that the firm has called home for nearly three decades.

160 Elgin
Place Bell at 160 Elgin St.

The iconic fields of satellite dishes there aren’t all Telesat’s, Goldberg says, but some of the firm’s tech will move to the roof of the new building while others will spread out to Telesat locations across Ontario and Quebec.

“It’s been a long time, it’s been a great space for the company,” Goldberg says. “We thought this would be a good opportunity to relocate our headquarters downtown … The downtown area is very vibrant right now.”

Telesat is not the only tech firm feeling that way. Discussions at last year’s Ottawa Real Estate Forum, usually focused on the needs of government, were dominated by tech talk, according to local participants. Veteran broker Bruce Wolfgram says there’s been a “sea change” as firms such as Shopify make downtown the place to be for Ottawa tech.

At the Ottawa Real Estate Forum, Morguard’s Bernie Myers – the firm’s vice-president for Eastern Canada of office and industrial properties, and Telesat’s current landlord – told OBJ that Telesat’s intention to move stemmed from its desire to attract younger employees.

“They could have stayed (on Telesat Court) and saved rent. (But) that’s not the only driver,” Myers said. “They want the younger workforce and the downtown experience.”

Talent turnover

With Telesat’s age comes an impending wave of retirements. Goldberg says many of the company’s long-standing employees are reaching the end of their careers, and the firm must attract young talent to fill those roles and more as the 240-person firm continues to grow.

“A lot of the prospective hires would prefer to be downtown,” he says.

Proximity to government is the other factor at play. Being close to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Telesat’s federal regulator, is one benefit.

The feds have also indicated an interest in Telesat’s low-earth orbit satellites as a way of providing reliable internet coverage to rural areas of the country. In its most recent budget, the federal government allotted $100 million to its Strategic Innovation Fund “with a particular focus on supporting projects that relate to LEO satellites and next-generation rural broadband.”

“Having more connectivity with government folks will be a great thing for Telesat. Being downtown will facilitate that,” Goldberg says.

The firm isn’t slowing down as it prepares for the second half of a century in business. Revenues for its most recent quarter were $252 million, an increase of five per cent year-over-year, and its contracted backlog stood at $3.8 billion at the start of 2018. Two of its satellites will also get a lift into orbit from Elon Musk’s SpaceX later this year.

Goldberg says the move is an “exciting chapter” in Telesat’s “already very long history.”

“I think this will be a great place for Telesat to be for the coming decades.”

- With files from Peter Kovessy