Heritage office of Empire Life for sale in Kingston as company moves to hybrid work

The 1.7-acre property on King Street East in downtown Kingston has more than 113,500 square feet of office space. Photo by Cushman & Wakefield.

Empire Life, which marks its 100-year anniversary in 2023, is moving out of the iconic heritage building and office complex in downtown Kingston that has served as its home base since 1936.

“Like many organizations, the nature of our work and the type of space we need is different today than it has been in the past,” said Julie Tompkins, vice-president of corporate services and chief communications officer with Empire Life.

The company has been moving away from the traditional cubicle office design for some time, Tompkins added, and is looking for space that offers more flexibility, as many employees work from home or in hybrid arrangements.

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“At one time, we had about 650 employees working out of our head office complex Monday through Friday. Now we have between 120 and 150 employees on site on our busiest days,” said Tompkins.

The 1.7-acre property on King Street East in downtown Kingston has more than 113,500 square feet of office space and is garnering interest even before a price has been set.

“We have not yet started marketing the property,” said Martin L. Skolnick, vice-president and broker with Cushman & Wakefield commercial real estate brokerage in Kingston. “We expect our full marketing phase to commence near the end of March. In the meantime, we have been connecting with prospective buyers that are known to us and can say that there is enthusiastic interest in this unique opportunity.”

The location is zoned for mixed use, including but not limited to an apartment building, offices, retail stores, grocery store, restaurants, hotel and wellness clinics. The parcel is already zoned for a future eight-storey building in the southeast corner at William and Ontario streets, said Skolnick.

The property is described as a “rare redevelopment opportunity to purchase a full city block in the heart of historic downtown Kingston within proximity to City Hall, Queen’s University, Kingston General Hospital, Hotel Dieu Hospital and the waterfront.”

While Empire Life was already in the process of exploring more flexible work arrangements prior to the pandemic, COVID precipitated a faster transition, said Tompkins.

“We had already shifted to a more project-focused agile approach within many of our teams in recent years and we had relocated some teams in other areas of the country to facilities with more collaborative and flexible spaces. But the pandemic certainly had the most significant impact on how and where we work today,” said Tompkins.

The company had been conducting work-from-home pilots as part of its regular business continuity planning activity in the 18 months leading up to the onset of the pandemic, according to Thompkins. The success of the pilots meant that, when the pandemic hit, Empire Life was able to quickly switch to work-from-home for most employees, she said. The success of that transition has led Empire Life to the hybrid work arrangements it currently has in place.

Empire life continues to operate out of the building and is not expecting to relocate until the sales process is complete.

“We have not yet decided on a new location, except that it will be in the Kingston area,” said Tompkins.

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