In this Behind the Headlines podcast episode, OBJ publisher Michael Curran speaks with OBJ editors David Sali and Peter Kovessy about some of the week’s biggest local business stories.
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MC: There’s a massive real estate development slated for the edge of Hintonburg. Three residential high-rises are planned for Gladstone Avenue, near the O-Train line. It’s right next to the future Corso Italia LRT station, currently under construction. We learned last week that the developers hope to start construction in early 2023, but there have also been some significant changes to the project since plans first surfaced a couple of years ago. Dave, what are they?
DS: In addition to a change in the ownership structure – CLV has purchased Trinity’s share of the project – there’s also been a shift in the composition of the development. They’ve added more units. Now they’re looking at 850 units and a mix of rentals and condos. That mix will depend on market demand. This is a heritage site – the Standard Bread Building, constructed in 1924 and now used for studio space for artists, will continue to serve that purpose once the development is complete. It will be renovated and restored and then those units will be rented back to artists at below-market rates.
MC: Our next story involves a local aerospace company that often flies under the radar here in Ottawa, but is known globally for being a world leader in designing and building gas turbine engine testing facilities. MDS Aero Support saw its revenues plummet during the pandemic, but managed to stay the course and stick the landing on the biggest contract in its history. Dave, tell us about this milestone.
DS: MDS Aero builds massive turbine engine test facilities and just completed the biggest project in its history with a facility in Derby, England for Rolls Royce. MDS Aero designed this $155-million facility – which is the area of a football field and five storeys high with concrete walls that are 10 feet thick – for them to test their aircraft engines. MDS has about 450 employees and about a third of them had a hand in this in one way or another. The company is hoping that as vaccines are rolled out and the economy rebounds that the aviation industry rebounds as well. MDS says its revenues were down from about $150 million before COVID-19 to about $100 million in the most recent fiscal year, but hopes to get that back on track very quickly.
MC: Sala San Marco on Preston Street is one of the city’s better-known events spaces. But now a portion of the space is being turned into a high-end Italian food store called Mercato Zacconi. It will carry prepared foods, cheeses, meats, fruits, vegetables, wood-fired pizza, homemade pasta as well as wine and beer. Peter, this is exciting news for a fast-growing part of the city that’s been asking for a grocery store for years. But it’s also a dramatic statement on the state of an important economic industry. Tell us about that.
PK: What this move really lays bare is how long some in the events and venues sector believe it will take to recover. Sala San Marco tried waiting it out in the early days of COVID but by September started to look seriously at its options. This quote from owner Tony Zacconi really jumped out at me: “I think it’s going to be a long time before people want to get into a room with 300 other people.” We’ve often heard that the broader tourism and hospitality sector is going to be one of the last to bounce back. But Zacconi also raised that the video-conferencing platforms that became the norm during COVID-19 could permanently reduce the need for certain in-person events.