Hundreds of tailors in the Coppley workshops in central Hamilton crafted suits for generations of Canadians and uniforms and greatcoats for soldiers during two world wars. The stylish main building’s façade features colourful brick in a herringbone pattern and limestone medallions carved to suggest pant pleats.
After a century in operation, the complex needed a makeover. And because its heritage brick-and-beam architecture is in demand, it was poised to join other former manufacturing buildings in Hamilton’s core that were being transformed into offices and retail space.
Bryan Dykstra saw the potential in the striking property on Hughson Street North at Cannon Street that was still the custom suit maker’s workshops.
“This is a story about being persistent and finding a creative way to solve a problem,” says Mr. Dykstra, partner in Kitchener-based Blacks Point Development. The building was owned by a third party; he called and asked if they would be interested in selling.
“It was the start of a process that ended up taking five years in total,” he recalls.
The owner eventually agreed to sell, but Coppley Ltd. wanted to stay. Their operations at the time were spread across three different buildings around Hamilton. “I said to Coppley: Ideally you want a single facility for your whole operation. I pounded the pavement and found a property where I could build with the parameters they needed – 75,000 square feet with manufacturing, office and warehousing under one roof.”
The location on nearby MacNab Street North is still convenient for many of the employees who live in the city core.
That sealed the deal and Coppley moved into the new facility in February. But just as Blacks Point started renovating the heritage building into an office-and-retail complex that will be christened Style Park, the COVID-19 lockdown put work on hold.
Interior demolition and structural repairs have now resumed, aiming for completion next summer. The original building from 1913 – built for Firth Brothers tailors, and later occupied by Coppley – has post-and-beam construction and wood floors. An addition from the 1920s features mushroom-shaped concrete columns and steel casement windows, giving the 60,000 square feet on four floors an open loft appearance.
Fortunately, the building had been well maintained, so there have been few surprises in the renovation so far, Mr. Dykstra says. But the COVID-19 situation has required readjustment of the planned renovations.
With the pause, the team did a rethink of ventilation and air-filtration systems as well as entrances and stairwells. “Fortunately, at four storeys, it’s an easy walk up, so it’s well positioned for the future if people prefer not to use elevators,” Mr. Dykstra says.
Style Park will also have windows that open for ventilation – an amenity that many modern buildings lack. The original windows were uneconomical to restore, so they will be replaced with steel casement replicas of the historic windows that have double glazing and increased thermal protection. “It was a hard decision because the windows are an important characteristic of the building, but we went out of our way to find a product that looks similar and keeps the aesthetic,” Mr. Dykstra says.
The Hughson Street façade with its decorative brick is designated as heritage and Blacks Point has applied for a remediation grant from the city of Hamilton to help with restoration. The original decorative limestone entry porch on Hughson will be restored, but a modern main entrance with automatic doors that meets accessibility codes is being created on the Cannon Street side of the building.
Façade grants are part of a trend to rethinking uses of historic industrial buildings of which there are many around the city, says Judy Lam, manager for commercial districts and small business for the City of Hamilton.
“Interest in the character of brick-and-beam buildings has been growing with a clientele that doesn’t want to be in office towers,” she explains. “There are many buildings in Hamilton that are between four and six storeys high, which is particularly appealing in an era when people are getting nervous about being in high rises and using elevators.”
Many were built for manufacturing, for companies that moved to locations outside of the core. “Industrial is almost a non-conforming use in the downtown and there were some buildings that were vacant for several years that are being brought back to life. What I’m happy about is that condos and apartments are being added to the mix, but it’s also nice that many of these buildings are being retained for commercial use,” Ms. Lam adds.
The appeal of locating in Hamilton is growing because real estate prices are significantly lower than in Toronto, she notes. “We have housing prices less than half of Toronto and while prices have gone up here as well, you can still find a single detached home in Hamilton for the price of a small condo in Toronto.”
Originally planned to be complete by the end of the year, Style Park is now scheduled to be ready next summer. The COVID-19 pause has delayed leasing, but there have been discussions with several potential tenants, including one who might want to do a complete building lease, says Brendan Sullivan, vice-president of office leasing for commercial real estate broker CBRE, which is handling sales for Style Park.
The complex lends itself to a range of uses, from creative technology or financial-services clients to health sciences, which is a large component of the Hamilton office market, he suggests.
“The beauty of the project is that it has immense manoeuvrability for tenants; the open 13,000-square-foot floor plates enable us to have discussions with tenants in all variations and sizes of space requirements.”
A unique attraction will be a lobby whose inspiration is boutique hotel, he notes. “People like to have a space to break away from the office, and I believe that will remain true post-COVID.” Key features of the first-floor space include an integrated lounge and café and there is a stunning marble staircase from the lobby to the second floor, so it won’t feel like a traditional office lobby.
Lease rates in Hamilton are in most cases about 50 per cent less than for comparable space in Toronto or Vancouver, Mr. Sullivan points out. “This provides tenants with an office environment that compares to Liberty Village or west end suburban locations in Toronto at a fraction of the costs.” Parking is also readily available. Additionally, Style Park is located near the new West Harbour GO station.
The project is the first foray into Hamilton for Blacks Point, whose other projects have focused on the Kitchener-Waterloo area, but there may be more to come, Mr. Dykstra hints. “This is a city that is prioritizing investment and is collaborative. It’s been an excellent experience so far.”