From a dry goods company to bowling alley, 59 King Street East in Hamilton, Ont. has lived many lives since the early twentieth century. Over the years, it may have been hard to foresee the brick-and-beam building one day transforming into modern office space for a global tech firm.
Q4, a cloud-based investor relations business headquartered in Toronto, with offices in New York, Copenhagen and London, will soon call Hamilton its fourth home, filling up 9,500 square feet on the second floor by March. After the move, the company will take up another 7,500 square feet on the fourth floor.
The expansion reflects the burgeoning tech pool gathering in and around the city, which has become an attractive destination for growing companies looking for talent and a space that mirrors their culture.
“We believe in the entire experience of the people who work in the company and part of that is the actual workspace,” says Q4 Founder and CEO Darrell Heaps. “We’re more open concept, but with a lot of meeting rooms and drop-in spaces.”
In what is the fastest-growing mid-sized city in Canada for tech talent, an abundance of architectural history means there are many older buildings ready to be fashioned into collaborative workspace, while preserving the past.
“Before heritage was recognized as an asset, some cities tore down their old buildings,” notes Judy Lam, manager of commercial districts and small business at the City of Hamilton. “We did lose some, but there’s been a real recognition that heritage is what is adding to the interest in the city.”
Project developer Core Urban has been carefully restoring 59 King Street East and plans to replicate the historic façade that was removed in the 1940s, while refurbishing interior gems like a vaulted ceiling for more natural light.
Inside, employee comfort and privacy are being considered with the addition of a wellness room for praying and meditation, along with various rooms and phone booths for personal and client calls. This diversity of space reflects that balance many companies are now trying to find: a creative and collaborative layout that doesn’t hinder productivity.
Other more typical features of a tech office will include a games room, on-site shower facilities, a space for bike racks and stadium-style seating for company meetings.
“There won’t be a bad seat in the house,” Heaps adds. “Everyone will have visibility.”
Affordability—for both employer and employee—has also been driving Toronto-based companies like Q4 to open offices in Hamilton. A new, renovated office goes for roughly $23 to $25 per square foot. A space in an older building sits at around $15 per square foot. For the best office space in downtown Toronto, companies are now paying more than $80 per square foot, according the latest statistics from Avison Young. With homes also commanding a much lower price compared to Toronto, Hamilton-based employees can now buy a house or condo for the first time.
This steady flow from the tech sector (up 53 per cent over the last five years) is part of what has been revitalizing the downtown core.
That energy is starting to accelerate even more with a lot of interest from companies all over the GTA, says Lam. Last year saw a record number of building permits, industrial investments and more residential units being constructed than ever before. Then there is the proposed Hamilton City Centre development that will potentially include a multi-tower site of mixed-use buildings, and the more recent proposal to modernize entertainment and convention properties like sports venue FirstOntario Centre.
“We’ve had so many investments in rejuvenating buildings that maybe years ago might have been left in disrepair,” Lam adds. “It’s changing the whole look of downtown and adding a more vibrant feel to the city. We’re excited we’re getting a name for being a tech hub.”
Q4 wants to be at the forefront of all this development as the leading tech employer in the area, creating 140 jobs with the move.
“The building is very much a construction zone now, says Heaps. “As it comes together, I think it will certainly be one of the most beautiful offices in Hamilton, but also rival offices in Toronto.”
Rebecca Melnyk is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design
Photo by Jeff Tessier