Jackson Building on feds’ redevelopment radar

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Public Works says it is considering various redevelopment options for a storied downtown office building currently in "critical" physical condition.

The government-owned Jackson Building is located at 122 Bank St., at the northwest corner of Slater Street. According to Centretown blogger Charles Akben-Marchand, the nine-storey structure was first constructed in 1919-21 by Ottawa lumber baron J.R. Booth and was badly damaged in a 1958 natural gas explosion originating in a building on the south side of Slater Street before reopening in 1969.

Today, approximately 620 civil servants work in the 190,200-square-foot building, which houses Public Safety Canada, the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the Correctional Service of Canada and the office of the Chief Electoral Officer, according to Public Works, which oversees the government’s real estate portfolio.

A Treasury Board database of federal government property lists the condition of the Jackson Building as “critical,” the lowest possible level. That’s despite repairs to the building envelope, undertaken as part of the Conservative government’s stimulus program announced in 2009.

When asked about the government’s plans for the property, Public Works spokesperson Sébastien Bois said the department “will analyze all options for the redevelopment of the site.”

“At this point no specific timelines have been established as this is only at a very preliminary planning stage.”

Any redevelopment could present lucrative opportunities for the private sector, which has played an increasingly active role in several recent federal builds.

Over on Elgin Street, between Slater and Albert streets, the federal government used a “lease-purchase approach” to turn an outdated seven-storey office building and surface parking lot into a modern 17-storey government office tower that’s currently under construction.

Insurer Great-West Life won a contract last year – worth $19.5 million in annual lease payments for 25 years – to design, construct, finance and manage the new building. Public Works will continue to own the site and will lease it to GWL for 25 years, plus the allotted time for demolition and construction. The space will then, in turn, be subleased back to Public Works.

In another public-private partnership involving Crown land, developer Broccolini Construction is nearing completion of a new 12-storey building at 455 de la Carriere Blvd. in Gatineau. At the end of the 25-year lease-purchase agreement, ownership of the building and land will automatically revert back to the federal government.

If Public Works does decide to redevelop the Jackson Building site, any future structure is likely to be much larger than the one it is replacing. A significant addition of Crown-owned office space to the downtown core could push the federal government’s next request for a large amount of private-sector space much further into the future.

If so, it would be disappointing news to property owners holding development sites in the core. These firms include Morguard, which has plans for a 17-storey office tower directly across the street.