Making mixed-use developments work in Ottawa

Demand rises for properties that blend commercial, residential and retail space
Trinity Centre at Bayview Station
A rendering of the planned Trinity Centre at Bayview Station development, across from the Bayview LRT station near the intersections of Albert and Preston streets. (Image courtesy of the Trinity Group.)
Editor's Note

This article originally appeared in the 2017 BOMA Ottawa Commercial Space Directory.

Ottawa’s urban landscape is on the cusp of getting a bold, new look.

There is a growing trend by developers and urban planners to create more mixed-use buildings that combine work and home life while attracting a new demographic of city dweller to the core.

One of the largest of these planned projects is just west of the central business district at the Bayview light-rail station, near the intersections of Albert and Preston streets.

Trinity Developments, PBC Real Estate Advisors and InterRent REIT are proposing three highrise buildings of 59, 55 and 50 storeys that would feature a mix of office, retail and residential space.

InterRent CEO Mike McGahan calls the area – where the O-Train Trillium and Confederation lines intersect – the future “centre ice” of the city’s commercial growth and believes the developers will be able to attract high-tech tenants.

“I see that whole kind of Shopify effect,” he told Ottawa Business Journal in an August interview. “I think a lot more of the tech companies are going to want to relocate downtown.”

Elsewhere, Canada’s largest REIT has its eye on dramatically redeveloping several of its retail properties in Ottawa’s inner suburbs.

RioCan is planning to build new mixed-use residential towers on the site of several older malls, including Elmvale Acres, Westgate and Gloucester shopping centres.

In 2016, RioCan CEO Edward Sonshine was quoted as saying that such redevelopments are “rebuilding cities,” a sentiment expressed by some local observers.

“If we just have office buildings, or just have places for people to live and they still have to get in their car and drive all over the place to go to the grocery store or take their kids to school, we are missing out,” says Toon Dreessen, president of Dreessen Cardinal Architects and past-president of the Ontario Association of Architects.

“We really need to create more mixed-use buildings that provide services that aren’t elsewhere and bring people into the city.”

Dreessen argues it’s time residents and businesses look at the development of buildings through a different lens.

“We have this image that a grocery store has to be 50,000 square feet, but it doesn’t have to be,” he explains. “Think about grocery stores in London or Manhattan; they are smaller and you visit them a couple of times a week to get what you need for dinner that night.”

Beyond the federal government

That lifestyle is quickly becoming more and more attractive to people living downtown, who don’t want the hassle of a long commute and want to be closer to the amenities that the city has to offer.

Mixed-use projects are fairly new in the Ottawa market, but according to Barry Hobin, founding partner with Hobin Architecture, they are growing in popularity.

“People want to live near where the action is.”

“With 80 per cent of Canada’s population living in urban areas, the trend reflects an attitude to live in the city, particularly a vibrant city,” he explains. “People want to live near where the action is.”

Historically, much of central Ottawa’s commercial space was driven by the needs of the federal government – namely good quality buildings, but designed to fit a limited budget.

“The majority of the buildings were purpose-built or owned by the federal government and that translated into a very restrained aesthetic to the buildings,” Dreessen says. “But, we are now seeing more reinvestment from the private sector – private developers and private industry – and a shift in how much of the downtown is strictly only for government office space.”

A good example of this shift is the new Vibe project at Lansdowne Park. It features retailers such as Sporting Life at street level, with condos above.

“For building owners, it’s about making sure the retail tenants are compatible with the location and that it’s a good fit with the condos,” says Hobin. “Not every condo building can attract a Starbucks.”

While a mix of commercial and residential may benefit the community, it does pose some structural and design challenges.

Traditionally, the ground floor would need to be substantially higher for retail tenants. And, with those retail shops taking up prime real estate at street level, finding the right spot for a condo lobby could be a huge concern for residents.

However, several Ottawa projects prove that such challenges can be overcome.

Hobin points to Westboro Station, which includes condos above various commercial units that include a Bridgehead coffee shop, dentist and Clocktower Brew Pub, among others.

Over the next decade, Hobin, expects to see more mixed-use buildings pop up across Ottawa as developers work to maximize the investment in the light-rail transit system.

This article originally appeared in the 2017 BOMA Ottawa Commercial Space Directory. Read the full publication here: