Craig Beattie walks into the light-filled, wide-open space on the main floor of 276 King St. W. in downtown Kitchener.
The space, at ground level of the Eaton's Lofts, is punctuated with pillars.
Beattie, a partner in Perimeter Development Corp., the Kitchener-based company that recently acquired the space, talks about the possibilities. He already is looking for tenants for this long-neglected corner of the downtown.
"I think we are at the stage of downtown redevelopment where we have to pay a lot of attention to the retail experience at ground level," he says.
The 18,000-square-foot space at King and Water streets was part of the Eaton's department store that was built in 1949. The iconic retailer operated there for 24 years before moving down the street in 1973 to the newly-built Market Square Mall.
The building never really recovered from the move. A number of businesses later operated at ground level, including Café Bolero, Home on Water (a furniture and home decor retailer), Vietnam La Cuisine and Golden Triangle Online. Bolero was the last to move out, in 2010.
While 32 residential condo units were built on the upper floors, the space at ground level has mostly been empty for the last 10 years.
Development of what was supposed to be the commercial component of the Eaton's Lofts got caught up in a lawsuit condo owners filed against the developer, Lorchrist Properties. The lawsuit was settled earlier this year.
Perimeter bought the ground level space a few months ago.
"We will start the interior renovations when we have the first lease signed," Beattie says.
Already, Perimeter has removed parts of the interior walls to expose the frames and bricks beneath. This exploratory work by engineers and architects showed that the walls can support much larger windows.
Perimeter is planning big changes to the exterior walls by adding larger windows at street level and another row of big windows above them.
"Look how bright it is in here now with no lights on," Beattie says. "Imagine what it will be like when we get the bigger windows installed. It will be amazing."
He says he is talking to a long list of possible tenants, including furniture, food and clothing retailers, both local and national.
"Imagine the merchandising and window displays that could go in along here," he says.
A grocery store with a café would be a good fit at the corner of the building, Beattie says. "It would be great to have an outdoor café here," he adds.
Alternatively, the windows could roll up garage style, creating a porous space between the building and the sidewalk. That would turn the space into a four-season café. In the winter, the windows could be rolled down, allowing people to still enjoy the street without sitting in the cold.
In the last 10 years, Perimeter has cemented its reputation for taking underused and abandoned buildings and creating much-in demand office space and apartments.
Its other downtown Kitchener properties include the restored factory at 51 Breithaupt St. that now houses Google's Canadian engineering headquarters, the officer tower at 305 King St. W. (commonly known as the old Canada Trust tower), a restored furniture factory at 117 King St. W. whose tenants include the local CBC station, and the Walper Hotel at King and Queen streets.
The office building at 305 King, now home to a large number of tech startups, is kitty-corner to the space at 276 King. It annoyed Beattie that no one was doing anything with it, so Perimeter bought the space.
"Hallelujah," says Sarah Marsh, a Kitchener ward councillor for the downtown.
"It's fantastic. I am ecstatic … I am very pleased to see a company with such a great track record of renovating old spaces to make them current and beautiful is taking over. They are very capable."