Accelerating Upwards: The Rise of Building Conversions In Ottawa

Was your team forced to work from home over the course of the pandemic? You’re not alone!  For those who work in “non-essential” fields or jobs, work shifted from being in the office 5 days a week to migrating from our beds to the home office on a daily basis. This shift has come with challenges for many, but also some perks – no more rush hour commutes, no more packing lunches, and no more work clothes (at least on the bottom!). As a result of this transition, the entire landscape of office work has changed, and in Ottawa, this adjustment has been significant. The downtown core, high-tech park, and government buildings now, for the most part, sit empty. Spaces that were formerly bustling with people are now quiet and unoccupied.

The pandemic has completely shifted the needs of organizations, and in tandem with this shift, Ottawa is also anticipating a substantial growth of the population over the next 25 years. As a result of these population changes, the City’s infrastructure needs have also transformed.

What can we expect in Ottawa?

The City of Ottawa has recognized the changing requirements of the community in its latest update of the Official Plan. Given the City is forecasting population growth of 100% to 200% by 2046, housing will be essential for this expansion, especially since 1/3 of the population lives in rentals.

According to the Official Plan, it’s anticipated that “By 2046, the majority of new residential units will be created through intensification in the urban area and in serviced villages.” These communities will be focused on meeting the targets of a “15-minute neighbourhood”. This involves developing areas with a diverse mix of space for housing, shopping, and services, as well as access to food, schools, employment, green space, and more.

In order to achieve the City’s goal of “growing within established neighbourhoods”, buildings need to go “up” and not “out”, and that’s where building conversions come in.

What is a conversion?

A conversion involves transforming a former office building, hotel, or dated apartment structure into a completely revitalized residential building that meets the “15-minute neighbourhood” needs of modern tenants. Everything from interior architectural changes, such as modern suite layouts and features, amenity spaces like fitness facilities and common social areas, to exterior upgrades like rooftop patios, bike storage and electric vehicle charging stations will be addressed as part of a conversion. The desired result is for the refreshed building to have as many features of a home as possible and to create a space that is more than a place to simply live – it’s a place to build connections, grow, get inspired, and so much more!

What is a retrofit?

Similar to a building conversion is a retrofit. At the time when any residential building is constructed, it typically contains the current style of design and floorplans, along with the most recent finishes. As time passes, tastes change. Does anyone have a shag rug anymore? Depending on the building, location, and economics, retrofits encompass everything from simple refreshes to full fit-ups of units and common amenity spaces – all with the goal of improving tenant experiences and increasing return-on-investment for owners.

Both building conversions and retrofits have an array of benefits including lower environmental impact; given the major structure of the building is reused, they are also much faster to get to market and they fulfill the needs of growing cities.

What experience does Bassi have in this space?

Bassi has successfully completed a variety of conversions and refits. Fortunately for us, as the population of the Capital Region continues to grow, more of our clients are inquiring about this type of work. At 170 Metcalfe Street, we were enlisted to convert an 8-storey office building into a 61-unit residential building. As part of the scope of work, we demolished the building back to its shell, installed a new elevator, and upgraded finishes throughout. Similarly, at 131-141 Cooper Street we also transformed a former hotel into a 272-unit, multi-family building. Another one of our projects can be spotted at 201 Metcalfe Street where we completed a retrofit and added new units to the basement.

Team Bassi is also actively working on a conversion at 473 Albert Street, where we are transforming an 11-storey office building into 154 apartment units. Located mere minutes from the new library at Lebreton Flats, the Ottawa River, and tons of civic amenities, this building proudly adheres to the “15-minute neighbourhood” that tenants seek. Working closely with the building owner, the design team, and consultants to improve constructability, timelines, and cost-efficiency, this project includes a range of interior and exterior upgrades. Starting inside, we will complete a full removal of the interior and replace it with suites. The team will also be revamping the building’s amenity space, rooftop patio, and a variety of other features to help create a sense of community within the building itself. Moving to the exterior, Juliet-style balconies will be added to enhance the apartment’s architectural character and to create a private outdoor space for tenants.

As the needs of Ottawa’s population continue to grow and shift, we can expect to see a continuation of this type of work across the region. Get in touch with Bassi to discuss your project vision today!

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