An Ottawa firm led by well-known construction entrepreneur John Bassi is launching a new industrial development east of the city that is being touted as a “build-to-suit” project that will allow tenants to tailor space to their individual needs. The proposal from JBPA Developments would see a nine-unit, 117,000-square-foot building constructed at 553 Echo St. […]An Ottawa firm led by well-known construction entrepreneur John Bassi is launching a new industrial development east of the city that is being touted as a “build-to-suit” project that will allow tenants to tailor space to their individual needs. The proposal from JBPA Developments would see a nine-unit, 117,000-square-foot building constructed at 553 Echo St. in Vars, about 35 kilometres east of Ottawa. A promotional brochure from CBRE, which is marketing the development, says the builder “will be able to accommodate its design to satisfy a variety of industrial businesses” at the 8.38-acre site. CBRE says the project offers potential tenants the “rare opportunity” to have a say in how their space is configured in a red-hot market where most new developments are being built on spec. “We’re really trying to position this building almost as a build-to-suit (project),” said Steve Piercey, a vice-president at CBRE’s Ottawa office who specializes in leasing warehouse and industrial space. Piercey said the developer is targeting tenants in a variety of sectors, including e-commerce and light industrial. “A group can come in and work with us, use the site plan and build up to that 117,000 square feet, plus or minus depending on what they need.” Located less than two kilometres south of Highway 417, the property is situated in an industrial hub in the Township of Russell. The proposal calls for 18 loading docks – two per unit – and a total of 117 surface parking spaces. Other specifications such as ceiling heights will be determined in consultation with tenants, Piercey said. Once at least six of the nine units are leased, the builder expects to fast-track site plan approval and complete the building within 12 months. Piercey said he expects the project to generate plenty of interest thanks to its close proximity to major transportation routes, the region’s highly skilled workforce, and rents that are expected to be cheaper than at similar developments in Ottawa due to lower land costs in outlying areas. “We’re here to add some credibility to the project and use our influence in the Montreal and Toronto markets, and of course Ottawa as well, to influence a tenant to come to this project,” he added. The proposal is a bit of a departure from the norm for JBPA Developments. The construction and consulting firm is best-known for projects such as the SoHo apartment complexes on Parkdale Avenue and Lisgar Street and a two-tower mixed-use development it’s building on Albert Street for Toronto-based real estate firm Main and Main. Now, the firm is jumping on the industrial bandwagon, and it’s not alone. After decades of stagnation, Ottawa’s industrial sector has found new life in recent years as the pandemic-fuelled rise in e-commerce triggered demand for warehousing and fulfilment space. The capital’s abundance of skilled labour and proximity to the country’s two biggest urban markets made it an ideal choice for firms such as Amazon to set up new distribution hubs. As a result, the region’s industrial availability rate has dropped to a new-record low of 2.2 per cent, while rents have soared to historic highs. Developers have scrambled to fill the void. According to CBRE, more than 1.6 million square feet of new inventory is expected to be delivered over the next 12 months, and millions of additional spare feet of new product is in the development pipeline. Even still, Ottawa’s current industrial inventory – between 36 million and 46 million square feet, depending on the source – lags far behind other Canadian cities of similar size, including Edmonton (156.6 million square feet), Calgary (153.7 million square feet) and Winnipeg (86.4 million square feet). “Ottawa has been underdeveloped from an industrial perspective for 40, 50 years,” Piercey said. “I feel like we’ve been afraid of industrial development.” Piercey says space in industrial buildings, particularly those with smaller bays, remains so scarce that tenants are often forced to occupy units that don’t fit their needs. That could mean settling for properties with lower ceilings or fewer loading docks than clients would like or renting units with an inadequate power supply. “If you’re a business that’s expanding or if you’re a business that’s relocating to Ottawa, there are certainly not a lot of options to choose from, which means in some cases you’re compromising,” he said. But the situation is slowly starting to improve as more new inventory comes online, Piercey added. “It’s the first we’re seeing any mass development of (industrial space) in Ottawa in multiple decades,” he explained. “It’s great to see developers look at Ottawa as an opportunity, and it’s great to see some of these projects being approved.”
Already an Insider? Log in
- Critical Ottawa business news and analysis updated daily.
- Immediate access to all Insider-only content on our website.
- 4 issues per year of the Ottawa Business Journal magazine.
- Special bonus issues like the Ottawa Book of Lists.
- Discounted registration for OBJ’s in-person events.