Even with wet, grey skies, the views from the new observatory tower at Zibi are impressive.
Special guests were invited Tuesday to an exclusive preview of a new building that will serve as a hub for what developers hope will become one of the most eco-friendly urban waterfront communities around. It's called Zibi, which means "river" in Algonquin.
Thirty-seven acres of former industrial land are being turned into a mixed-use residential, retail and commercial space, spanning both the Quebec and Ontario sides of the Ottawa River. Once it's done, the downtown community will feature condos, shops, offices, waterfront parks and pathways.
Reaching the present construction stage has been a complex process, due to the involvement of multiple jurisdictions and government bodies, said Jeff Westeinde, one of the key developers behind the ambitious $1.5 billion redevelopment.
“I feel like I’ve been pushing a rock up a big hill for four years and it’s finally starting to roll down the other side,” Westeinde told OBJ.social at the party.
The new building, called Zibi House, is located at 25 rue Jos-Montferrand, just off Laurier Street, in Gatineau. It will serve not only as a presentation centre but also as a cultural and community centre for hosting events and for giving the public a feel for what Zibi is offering.
Tuesday’s event invited members of the media, community partners and collaborators, and prospective tenants. Zibi aims to have 50 percent of its retail space occupied by local independent businesses. “In the next six months we’ll announce some really cool partnerships,” said Westeinde.
Andrew Bassett, co-owner of Little Victories Coffee Roasters, was eyeing the space for a possible expansion. So were Carley Schelck and her husband, Oliver Schelck, co-owners of the Urban Element cooking studio and event space.
So earthy is the vibe inside Zibi House that there's even a serviceberry tree growing right in the front lobby. It's part of Zibi's efforts to reintroduce native species back to the area. Guests were served such dishes as cured salmon gravlax, presented on boughs of spruce and pine.
The building includes a series of rooms that allow the public to experience Zibi through all five senses. In one room, there’s the fresh scent of growing switchgrass while, in another, a spot where guests can taste honey that’s been harvested on the property. There's a cosy room with a cushioned seating area for listening to the music of Jeremy Dutcher, a classically-trained Canadian Indigenous tenor and winner of the 2018 Polaris Music Prize. Another of the rooms features tranquil images of moving water.
Guests were invited to take a freight elevator up to the observatory on the top floor to soak up the views, which included the Ottawa River's mighty Chaudière Falls and Parliament Hill.
Zibi House officially opens to the public next Wednesday.