Sun Life LRT station ‘not cast in stone’

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Plans to link the city’s underground light-rail tunnel with the atrium of the Sun Life Centre are far from finalized, says the general manager of the downtown office complex.

In a report published earlier this month, the city said it expects the downtown east station to be the busiest of the 13 stops along the 12.5-kilometre line. The underground station will be served by a standalone street entrance at the southeast corner of O’Connor and Queen streets and “be directly connected underground to the main atrium of the Sun Life building,” according to city documents.

The city’s top real estate official, Gord McNair, told city councillors last week that municipal staff had “undertaken detailed discussions” with Sun Life about the light-rail connection.

However, Sun Life Centre general manager Sean O’Sullivan said in an interview that the owners of the downtown property have only indicated an interest in exploring the possibility of connecting to the line.

“It is a very exciting project and one that we want to be as close to as we can for our tenants and their benefit,” he said.

“All we’ve done is express our interest to the city. We haven’t had the chance to talk to the proponent because we didn’t know who it was (prior to this month’s announcement). There is still lots to be clarified.”

When asked about the description of the Sun Life connection contained in the city report, Mr. O’Sullivan responded, “That’s not cast in stone. There have been many versions discussed, and I wouldn’t say that’s a definite at this point.”

A call to the city’s media relations department seeking clarification was not returned.

The Sun Life Centre is a major office complex in the downtown core, containing more than 900,000 square feet of commercial space in the city block bounded by O’Connor, Queen, Bank and Albert streets.

Nearly 3,500 people work in the complex, 60 per cent of whom take public transit, according to Mr. O’Sullivan.

Several commercial real estate experts say the benefit to landlords of directly connecting their office building to a subway or light rail line is negligible compared to being a block away from a station entrance.

Ian MacCulloch, the Canadian national research director at Colliers International, said his analysis of the Toronto market showed rents are typically higher in office buildings that are in close proximity to a subway station than those that are a “sizable” walk away.

However, he said it is hard to see any measurable impact of a direct subway connection. That led him to suggest that in Ottawa, “the buildings in close proximity to these stops will benefit. I don’t think there will be an exceptional benefit to the buildings that house the stops.”

Paul Bennett, a vice-president and broker at Colliers’ Ottawa office, said the ability for commuters to remain indoors as they arrive at and leave the office may be an asset for landlords.

However, he noted it could just as easily be a detriment if the design creates congestion in the building’s common areas.

City council is expected to vote Wednesday in favour of awarding the contract to construct the $2.13-billion line to the Rideau Transit Group, a consortium led by ACS Infrastructure, SNC Lavalin, EllisDon and BBB Architects.

 

- With files from Mark Brownlee