Ottawa's top landlord: Bernie Myers takes the reins of Morguard in the capital

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Not much seems to faze Bernie Myers.

The new top executive responsible for Morguard's vast Ottawa real estate holdings is just as comfortable discussing his firm’s downtown buildings as he is the hockey sweater bearing the signatures of hockey greats such as Tony Esposito that adorns a wall in the firm’s Sparks Street office.

What Mr. Myers inherited when he was internally promoted to the job of vice-president for Eastern Canada at beginning of June would be enough to make most people sweat.

The company oversees more than five million square feet of space in Ottawa, making it the largest commercial property management firm in the city.

For a long time, the federal government has been the largest single tenant in Ottawa’s downtown office market.

The city’s office market dynamics are changing, though, now that the governing Conservatives are promising to lop off thousands of public servants.

None of it causes Mr. Myers to outwardly express concern. He slouches in his chair in between pulls from his mug of coffee, easily fending off with a laugh questions about how his firm plans to adapt to a rapidly changing office market.

“Change can be good,” said Mr. Myers, who took over the position at the beginning of June from Arthur Tallis.

“The days where you could just have the government as a tenant without doing updates to your building for a long time are gone. Like every other market, you have to continue to refresh and update and modernize and make the workplace better.”

Mr. Myers said he’s confident the business community’s efforts to economically diversify away from its government base – he’s particularly excited about what the city’s economic development arm, Invest Ottawa, has been up to – will help fill up office space in the city.

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking for new revenue sources.

He wants to renovate the firm’s existing office space so Morguard’s holdings will continue to be attractive to new tenants, though he didn’t say how much the company was willing to spend or over what time period.

“For well-run, well-managed and well-maintained good office buildings, the demand is good,” he said. “Older product may have greater difficulty.”

He’s also trying to steer the company to take on more retail space and develop more highrise condo apartments – a market with which the firm hasn’t been too involved in Ottawa to date.

Much of his time is going to be devoted to projects the firm already has on the go, however.

He’s going to continue to focus his attention on Morguard’s signature new office building at 150 Elgin St., just south of Laurier Avenue.

The building is already half-full, he said, though the only tenants he would confirm are KPMG and the Canada Council for the Arts. (CIBC is also believed to be a tenant.) He expected the building would be fully leased by 2014.

The firm wants to make its next major project a property at the southwest corner of Bank and Slater streets, he said. Morguard can build 400,000 square feet of space there, he said, but it first needs to line up a large private tenant or major government department.

Mr. Myers also wants to look at connections between the light-rail tunnel the city is currently building underneath the downtown core and some of the buildings the firm owns around Queen Street.

Those who work with or compete against the firm shouldn’t expect too many transformations under his leadership, though. Mr. Myers said he doesn’t expect to make any major changes from his predecessor.

“It’s certainly a big responsibility that I take very seriously,” he said. “I’m humbled to be given the opportunity.”

SIDEBAR: Bernie Myers bio

Current title: Vice-president of office/industrial for Eastern Canada (Morguard Investments Ltd.)

Previous positions:

2007-2013: Asset management director for Eastern Canada. (Morguard Investments Ltd.)

2004-2006: Real estate portfolio manager for Western Canada. (Hydro-Québec Pension Fund)

1999-2004: Asset management director (GWL Realty Advisors)

1995-2004: Board member (Building Owners and Managers Association, Calgary chapter)

1992-1999: Vice-president of property management (O&Y Enterprise)