Gemstone teams up with Montreal firm on Centretown mixed-use highrise plan

Gemstone development

An Ottawa real estate company is teaming up with a Montreal firm on a planned residential highrise and “community hub” with co-working space in the heart of Centretown.

Gemstone Corp. recently filed an application at City Hall for the mixed-use development that would feature a 16-storey tower with 140 rental suites and about 2,600 square feet of ground-floor commercial space at the northwest corner of Somerset Street West and O’Connor Street.

The property consists of three parcels of land known officially as 311 Somerset St. W. and 234 and 236 O’Connor St. The 0.3-acre site now contains a commercial parking lot, and part of the property was once home to a heritage structure that was heavily damaged by fire before being torn down in 2017.

Gemstone president Josh Zaret calls the Somerset Street district a “unique corridor” due to its eclectic mix of well-known restaurants and pubs housed in red-brick heritage structures, including Mamma Teresa Ristorante and Union Local 613. 

Zaret’s firm is partnering with Montreal-based Vered Group on the project. Gemstone has been working with local firm Figurr Architects Collective (formerly known as Rubin & Rotman) for nearly three years to create a design that “integrates into the fabric of Somerset” through a three-storey red-brick podium that reflects the character of the neighbourhood.

“We think we’ve taken all of that respect for heritage and replicated it throughout (the podium),” Zaret said, adding city staff and heritage officials have been consulted throughout the process.

With demand for flexible office space expected to surge post-pandemic, Zaret said the developers are hoping to attract a co-working provider to occupy part of the ground-floor commercial component. 

They’ve also had “some interesting but very, very preliminary” discussions about leasing some of the space to a restaurant, he added.

Mix of apartment sizes

“There will be a real community hub (feel) to this,” Zaret said. 

He said the apartments will be a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units targeted at tenants such as Parliament Hill staffers and other downtown office workers. The building is expected to include amenities such as a gym and indoor pool and will have three levels of underground parking with space for 67 vehicles.

The proposal exceeds the nine-storey height limit at the Somerset Street and 236 O’Connor portions of the property, meaning city council must approve zoning and official plan amendments. The developers will also require a heritage permit.

Zaret says he hopes to begin public consultations later this spring, with the aim of starting construction early next year pending the necessary approvals.