Ottawa’s next ‘it’ neighbourhood? Real estate experts say Trinity’s plan for O-Train intersection could spark Bayview development wave

Trinity Development Group’s proposed mixed-use complex that would span the O-Train tracks near Bayview station could become the centrepiece of Ottawa’s next great urban gentrification project, real estate experts say.

Trinity vice-president of development and design Brad Caco said recently the company is negotiating with the city for the air rights to build over the O-Train Trillium Line. Trinity hopes to develop the two-hectare site at 801 Albert St. with up to four highrises that would include a mix of retail, office and residential space.

Located at the intersection of the Trillium and Confederation light-rail lines, the property is ideally situated to be the heart of a new era of urban intensification in the Bayview district, close observers of the local real estate scene argue. The land is right beside the City Centre complex and a stone’s throw from the city’s new Innovation Centre, which is slated to open at Bayview Yards this fall.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that this is the next ‘it’ neighbourhood for Ottawa,” said Warren Wilkinson, associate vice-president at the Ottawa office of Colliers International. “I think this is where we’re going to see the most exciting growth in Ottawa for the next 10 years.”

DCR Phoenix previously owned the land and still retains a stake in the property and proposed new development. In 2012, it received approval to build three towers on the site in the hope of leasing space to the federal government but never followed through on the plan.

Mr. Caco said exact details of the new proposal, including its layout and retail components, have yet to be determined. Trinity filed its planning application at City Hall in mid-March, he said, and the company is hoping to begin construction on the project by the summer of 2017.

Trinity is discussing “any and all possibilities” with the city, he said, including an encroachment along the easterly portion of the O-Train corridor or a build-over to the west side of the rail line near Tom Brown Arena. He said the company is in “active discussions” with a number of potential retail tenants but wouldn’t name them.

“It’s early days,” Mr. Caco said. “Typically, tenants will not sign on the dotted line until you have your zoning in place.”

Trinity also hasn’t made a final decision on whether the residential units will be condos, rental apartments or a combination of both, he said.

Mr. Caco said the development company believes the area near Bayview station will eventually become a high-traffic corridor similar to the intersection of Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue in Toronto. The Confederation Line is slated to open in the spring of 2018 and is expected to carry thousands of transit commuters to the area each day.

“It’s the only crossroads in the entire LRT (system) in the city of Ottawa,” he said. “I don’t know day one, but in the future, yes. Because it’s a natural transit crossroads, with everything that’s going on in the neighbourhood in terms of (the proposed redevelopment of) LeBreton (Flats) … I believe that transit is what’s providing the opportunity here.”

Nathan Smith, senior vice-president at Cushman & Wakefield’s Ottawa brokerage, agreed.

“This happens to be kind of at the corner of Main and Main when you talk about transportation-oriented development,” he said. “There’s no question that the city is prepared to let developers push the envelope as far as density goes on sites that are within close proximity to these massive transit stations. When you look at the landscape, there’s not a whole lot of other opportunities for private-sector development so close to the future LeBreton Flats.”

The planned redevelopment of LeBreton Flats would give the neighbourhood a boost, but even without it the Bayview area is still on track to become a bustling transit hub, Mr. Caco said.

“Naturally, it’ll be positive, but we’re not relying on it,” he said of LeBreton’s revival. “This site could stand on its own.”

Nearby retail and office developments, such as Equity Realty Group’s City Centre complex, could also be prime targets for a makeover once the Confederation Line is running, Mr. Smith said. Built in the 1960s, the facility includes an eight-storey office tower and a row of warehouse bays.

Often denounced as one of the city’s biggest eyesores, City Centre was spruced up a few years ago and has become one of the neighbourhood’s hottest retail and commercial complexes thanks to tenants such as Art Is In bakery and Beyond the Pale brewery.

Still, the Bayview district’s community design plan adopted in 2013 allows for buildings as high as 30 storeys on the property, meaning the City Centre land could become considerably more valuable if transit-related development really takes off next door.

John Zinati of District Realty, the company that manages City Centre, told OBJ he had no comment on the potential impact of Trinity’s proposal. Others, however, see an opportunity for new development on the site.

“When it was originally built, it was leading-edge as far as density goes for the area,” Mr. Smith said of City Centre. “Clearly, now it’s an urban site that is underdeveloped.”

But Mr. Wilkinson said anyone expecting a major overhaul of the property might be waiting a while.

“I’m not entirely certain that it necessarily needs it,” he said. “I think with patience and some proper planning and some good guidance on a tenant mix, City Centre in and of itself can transform itself … to one of the trendier urban redevelopments. A balanced market has a combination of A-, B- and C-class properties.”

The direction and magnitude of future development in the Bayview area could depend on how Trillium’s project pans out, Mr. Wilkinson said.

“You need a start,” he said. “I think … the light rail transit line is a fantastic start. With the right vision, I think the rest will come naturally. People will probably want to see some successes before they start making any major moves.”