London’s Office Market Offers Room to Grow

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At just over 20 per cent, downtown London has one of the highest office vacancy rates in the country. But that number tells only part of the story. While empty space remains a challenge, it also represents an opportunity for startups and blue-chip companies alike to find affordable office space with room to grow.

“Downtown London offers everything from hot desks and co-working spaces to floor plates of up to an acre,” says Downtown London general manager, Janette MacDonald.

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More than 20 per cent of London’s workforce still works downtown, she says, and the city’s booming digital sector is expected to make that number grow.

The most recent Downtown London Market Assessment found that the number of digital creative employees in London has doubled over the past ten years, fueled in part by graduates from Fanshawe College and Western University and numerous downtown incubators.

“The tech sector loves downtown,” says MacDonald. “These companies are attracted to the walkability of the core. They want to be close to our great restaurants, shopping and entertainment.”

With the City of London’s commitment to transforming its main street, Dundas Street, into a flexible street called Dundas Place, downtown London will continue to be the first choice for office users wanting to be in the heart of the action, MacDonald says.

“The next five to ten years are going to be transformational. Dundas Place will be a unique and exciting destination.”

Paul Dugsin of Magnus Associates is looking forward to being part of the change.

Dugsin and his business partner David Brebner purchased the former Loews Theatre and Century Theatre buildings at 192 and 194 Dundas Street in 2010. It took five years of renovations to transform the heritage properties into a mixed retail-office complex that now houses eight executive offices on its second floor.

Available for rent on a monthly basis, the building has provided temporary office space to everyone from web developers and film producers to psychologists, Dugsin says.

The ground floor of the former Century Theatre – with its vaulted ceilings, mirrored walls, and chandeliers – will be available for rent as one of the most unique office spaces in London. The design process is well underway, Dugsin says, and interested parties should step forward.

“We see this space as a place where people can build their own business by having access to very modern and professional space in the heart of downtown,” says Dugsin.

Citi Plaza is another downtown landmark that has forged a new identity. Opened as an urban mega-mall in 1989, it is now a bustling mixed-use facility.

Recent additions to the office component include The City of London, video game development giant Digital Extremes, Intact Insurance, and

PricewaterhouseCoopers. “We are 83 per cent leased at this point,” says Charlie Gobert, a sales representative for Avison Young.

The former mall offers a blank canvas where companies can design and build a modern, fun office space that appeals to a younger workforce, Gobert says.

With spaces ranging from 2,500 square feet to 45,000 square feet, Gobert says Citi Plaza provides amenities that may not be found in a more traditional office building. “We have wide hallways and a food court, a gym and movie theatre, as well as the infrastructure and backup systems that allow users to keep running without any interruptions to their business.”

Summit Properties has been leasing office space in London for the past 50 years and still believes in the value of hands-on customer service.

“We are owner occupied,” says Keith McAlister, leasing manager at Summit Properties. “We don’t have to wait to make a decision. If a tenant has an issue, we can deal with it right away.”

Today, the company owns around 750,000 square feet of core and suburban Class A office inventory, including downtown’s Talbot Centre – three glass office towers joined by a shopping mall concourse and underground parking.

The traditional office complex remains a popular choice for many of London’s blue-chip companies, including numerous banks and financial service providers, insurance companies, and law firms. “We are 85 per cent leased, with some spectacular full-floor opportunities,” McAlister says.

Companies enjoy the best of all worlds in downtown London, comments McAlister. The city offers a large selection of office inventory with average gross rents that are $39 psft less than core Toronto for comparable space, easy access to VIA Rail and an international airport, and an enviable quality of life.

“I live in the suburbs and work in the heart of downtown,” he says. “In the summer, I bicycle to work in 20 minutes along the river path. When I drive, it takes five minutes longer.”