Several property developers and business owners are taking a renewed interest in Bells Corners, attracted in part by development incentives and the growing presence of the nearby Department of National Defence headquarters.
City councillor Rick Chiarelli, a longtime Bells Corners resident and the ward’s representative, says the area was once a bustling shopping district. With tech giant Nortel as an anchor employer, the city’s only IKEA, and what was believed to be more fast food outlets than any other neighbourhood, Chiarelli says Ottawa residents came from all over the city to shop and spend time in Bells Corners.
Then a few things happened. New power centres popped up in Kanata and Barrhaven, and Westboro started to boom. Bells Corners wasn’t the only shopping destination anymore, and the neighbourhood started to see a decline.
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Four years after the University of Ottawa opened its first satellite campus in Kanata North, the university is expanding its presence in the tech park.
“Suddenly people didn’t have to go to Bells Corners,” says Chiarelli. IKEA’s move to its current Pinecrest location cemented that, he adds. Even the fast food chains were looking elsewhere: one of the first to go was KFC, he remembers, a loss he calls “symbolic.”
The Nortel bust in 2009, which affected thousands of employees in Ottawa and splintered the tech scene for years to come, was “the final stake to the heart,” says Chiarelli.
“It became clear that we would have to shift,” he says. “It was possible to rebuild the customer base, but we would have to shift our target.”
Chiarelli says Bells Corners has a geographical advantage: it’s at the confluence of Highways 416, 417 and 7. The majority of tourist traffic comes via those roadways, making hotels a strategic bet for development.
The creation of the Bells Corners BIA in 2009 helped to create a voice for the business community, and the city brought in a Community Improvement Plan, which incentivizes redevelopments by giving property owners a break on their future tax bills.
Chiarelli says he thinks it’s been one of the most successful such plans Ottawa has seen. One hotel, a Holiday Inn, is already up, and a Hilton Garden Inn and restaurant are slated to move into a brand-new development coming to 300 Moodie Dr.
“It’s made some tough business decisions a lot easier,” says BIA executive director Joe Varner of the plan.
But perhaps the biggest boon came in the form of an anchor employer to fill the hole – in this case, the 370-acre Carling Campus – that Nortel had left behind.
Around a third of the anticipated 10,000 DND employees have already started work at their new campus, and both Varner and Chiarelli say Bells Corners is already feelings the perks.
Some homebuilders also appear to have a renewed interest in Bells Corners.
Chiarelli says he’s been in talks with a developer who is planning to construct some 2,000 residential units. If such a project moves ahead, it could dramatically increase the population of the community, which currently has 3,600 homes, according to Chiarelli.
Many seniors have expressed their wish to stay in the area, and the opportunity to occupy smaller condo-style units will make it easier for existing residents to stay in the community and free up single-family homes for young families to move in, says Chiarelli.
Another new face in the neighbourhood is a familiar one: KFC, which returned recently, says Chiarelli.
“Symbolically, this is very exciting,” he says.
Welcome to the neighbourhood
Residents will soon have something new to cheers over, too. Kichesippi Beer Co., a local brewery, is set to open its new location in Bells Corners this March.
Founder Paul Meek says he hopes to contribute to the Bells Corners community with his new tap room, which will occupy a former car dealership on Richmond Road.
Meek says he hopes the brewery will be a hub for Bells Corners residents as well as a destination for people across Ottawa.
“We’ve always had this goal of being part of the Ottawa experience,” says Meek.
The new Kichesippi location will serve beer and a small pub fare menu in addition to housing a cafe. Meek is working on establishing a farmer’s market in a nearby parking lot, and hopes his new location will be a community hub. He’s especially excited about the location’s proximity to the Trans Canada Trail.
“(It’s) a really unique opportunity to be in an urban environment … but also to be right up against really one of the coolest things that this country has,” says Meek. “There’s a lot of great stuff happening in that neighbourhood and we’re excited to be a part of it.”