An icon's transformation from firehall to Better Business Bureau

Nonprofit organization that sets standard for honest business behaviour set to open new space by end of year
firehall
The regional office of the Better Business Bureau is turning the former Parkdale Fire Station No. 11, a historical landmark located in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood, into flexible office, meeting and event space for its employees and members. Photo by Caroline Phillips

One of Hintonburg’s most beloved community landmarks, the former Parkdale Fire Station No. 11, is on the verge of being reinvented as flexible office, meeting and event space for the Better Business Bureau’s largest regional office in Canada.

The private nonprofit organization had been searching for a building that was both centrally located and filled with historic charm when it learned that the old firehall at 424 Parkdale Ave. was up for grabs. Its anchor tenant, The Urban Element culinary event studio, bid good bye to its home of 15 years last winter. 

“I feel really fortunate that this space became available for us right at the time when we were looking,” said Jordan King, president and CEO of Better Business Bureau (BBB) Canada’s Northern Capital Regions and Quebec. “It’s just such a perfect fit.”

BBB is taking over the entire 4,800-square-foot, two-storey building. It has been around since 1924, back when fire engines were still pulled by horses (Ottawa’s last fire horse retired from the station by 1929. His name was Bob).

The heritage designated property boasts high ceilings, exposed brick walls, polished concrete flooring and such original fire hall features as a hose drying tower and a firefighter’s pole. The windows and double-bay doors are painted a cheerful bright red.

"If you tell someone you’re at the firehall on Parkdale, they’re immediately, like, ‘I know that place!’ "

“This building has more character than we could ever inject into it,” said King. “It’s very iconic in the city, which is amazing. If you tell someone you’re at the firehall on Parkdale, they’re immediately, like, ‘I know that place!’ ” 

The pièce de résistance is the high-end commercial kitchen on the main floor. “We will be able to host our own events,” said King while emphasizing how much he wants to foster neighbourhood inclusivity, whether that means bringing in local chefs or loaning the space out for special occasions in exchange, perhaps, for a donation to a local charity.

“We want it to be like a community hub.”

firehall
Jordan King, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Canada’s Northern Capital Regions and Quebec, and media relations officer Jessie St-Cyr, plan to use the commercial kitchen at 424 Parkdale Ave. to host events when the building reopens later this year. Photo by Caroline Phillips

BBB plans to use the second floor, previously occupied by Plum Realty, as office and meeting rooms for employees and BBB members. They can come and go as they please, in keeping with current flexible workplace trends. 

BBB is working with Ottawa-based design consultants Candice Wei and Mark Sanchez of Wei Sanchez Design Studio to give the interior a cool retro vibe that matches the nearly century-old architecture, with its red bricks with stone trim. The fire hall, which closed in 1986, is one of the last pre-1930 stations remaining in Ottawa. 

The most significant change will involve bringing the hidden second bay into the ground floor space, to create more room and boost natural light.

If everything goes as planned, the building should be ready by the end of the year. Costs are projected to be in the range of $300,000, said King.

The landlord had listed with leasing agent Zinati Realty while BBB worked with Avison Young to close the deal.

firehall
Jordan King, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Canada’s Northern Capital Regions and Quebec, and media relations officer Jessie St-Cyr, at the former Parkdale Fire Station No. 11, which will serve as flexible office, meeting and event space for the nonprofit organization when the building reopens later this year. Photo by Caroline Phillips

BBB wasn’t the only interested party that had been eyeing the firehall. “We were very selective in who we wanted to put in there,” said property manager Jonah Bonn, founder of First Bay Properties, a boutique commercial property management firm with operations in Ottawa and Halifax. “There was no shortage of inquiries about the space, but we wanted to make sure we had a strong covenant and someone who has a track record and an ability to reinvigorate the space over the coming years. 

“We think it will be a good use of the space and we look forward to them moving in, in short order.”

As for The Urban Element, Bonn said he was sorry to lose it as a tenant. Due to repeated lockdown restrictions, the well-regarded owners, Carley and Oliver Schelck, came up with a new business model that focused on prepared meals, virtual cooking classes and catering. “Certainly, it was upsetting to see them go,” said Bonn. “I think their departure was accelerated by the pandemic.”

BBB was founded in 1912 by business owners who were trying to stop marketplace practices that were deceptive, misleading or unethical. One of the main services provided by BBB is a free database of businesses that lists the services or products offered, the number of complaints filed against the business, and an assigned BBB rating. As well, BBB provides accreditation to reputable businesses engaging in fair business practices.

BBB can also assist in the resolution of disputes between a business and its customers.

The regional office, located on Hunt Club Road, has more than 50 employees and roughly 5,000 members.

In many ways, the organization and fire station No. 11 are similar, said BBB’s media relations officer, Jessie St-Cyr. “BBB has evolved so much over the years, much like this space, but you still have the main essence.”

firehall
Jessie St-Cyr, from Better Business Bureau (BBB) Canada’s Northern Capital Regions and Quebec, holds up some of the old photos and drawings of the former Parkdale Fire Station No. 11, which will be on display in the heritage building when it reopens as new flexible office, meeting and event space for the nonprofit organization. Photo by Caroline Phillips

 

caroline@obj.ca