A million-dollar facelift is underway on the long-neglected facade of a former Eaton's store in Kitchener's downtown.
The empty ground-level space at King Street West and Water Street was an ugly reminder of economic decline and stagnation that drove Craig Beattie nuts.
Beattie is a founding partner of Perimeter Development Corp., which has invested heavily in the renovation and restoration of several historic buildings in the downtown, including the Walper Hotel, 117 King St. W. and 51 Breithaupt St., where Google's Canadian engineering headquarters are located.
The street level of the Eaton's Lofts building will be transformed into a glass wall trimmed with granite and tiles. A new canopy and decorative outdoor lighting will be added.
"It is going to be phenomenal," says Beattie.
Parts of the exterior are now covered by orange construction tarps as workers dismantle sections of the wall and install large panes of glass that will rise more than four metres above the sidewalk.
Turning the stucco-clad building into eye-catching space will help the developer find tenants for the building. Specializing in the adaptive reuse of old buildings, Perimeter has used the same approach with many other properties.
"Imagine standing here with all this glass in, it is a whole different feeling," Beattie says as he looks along the front wall of the building from the inside. "It helps attract better quality tenants."
Perimeter bought the Mies van der Rohe-inspired office building at 305 King St. W., across the intersection from the former Eaton's store, about four years ago. It spent $3 million on renovations; now 95 per cent of the building is leased to tech firms; there is a restaurant and juice bar on the ground floor.
During that time nothing had been done to improve the empty space at 276 King St. W. Beattie was starting to wonder if it would scare off potential tenants for Perimeter's buildings in the city core. So the company decided to buy it and fix it up. The owner was an insurance company that was among the original lenders for the Eaton's Lofts condo development.
For nine years, the condo owners, the developer and the City of Kitchener fought a lawsuit that was settled two years ago. The condo owners received $850,000 from the defendants, including the architect, the city, the electrical authority, the developer and the original condo board of directors,.
"We just think the time is right to start to tackle this now with some of the other stuff we are doing, and others are doing," says Beattie.
Several new developments are expected in downtown Kitchener in the next few years, including condos, office buildings and retail space. Perimeter expects to start construction in about two months on a new office building at 345 King St. W.
"For us it was important to get in control of this because of the important amount of frontage it has, and what we have done at 305 and 345 — starting the new office building — and all the condo activity happening around," says Beattie.
He wants tenants that will attract pedestrians — possibly a coffee shop, café, restaurant and retailers. There is about 20,000 square feet of space that can accommodate four or five tenants, he says. Perimeter does not want to lease the space to startups or tech firms, believing office space on the main floor deadens the street.
"It is just a matter of time before we can find some interesting users for this, so it was important to get it, and then you are well positioned to work with good retailers," Beattie says.