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The transformation of Toronto's Liberty Village continued with the completion of a new 87,000-square-foot, five-storey building at 80 Atlantic Ave in 2020.doublespace photography

From its early days as a booming Victorian-era industrial hub that manufactured everything from woven carpets to washing machines, Liberty Village in Toronto’s west end continues to evolve as an epicentre for arts, culture and creativity.

“It’s amazing how these downtown neighbourhoods come full circle,” says Mitchell Gillin, vice-president of asset management at Hullmark. “The historic attributes make them durable and attractable.”

Hullmark, a second-generation family-owned real estate development company, was attracted to Liberty Village a decade ago when the area was a work-in-progress. They first invested in the historic Toronto Carpet Factory building at Mowat Avenue and not long after, purchased sites at 60 and 80 Atlantic Ave.

Hullmark worked with architect and design firm BDP Quadrangle to repurpose 60 Atlantic Ave., originally a wine warehouse, into a three-storey commercial building – adding corten steel and glass that tied the present to the past.

“We designed a space where people could slip into their creative process or grab a coffee just as easily as they could host important meetings or accomplish their daily work.

Meg Graham, partner at Superkül

By contrast, 80 Atlantic Ave. is a new build, and was completed in 2020. The 87,000-square-foot, five-storey building features heavy timber, unique glazing and floor-to-ceiling windows.

“Among the many reasons to build with wood is the possibility of a faster construction process, lower carbon footprint and [its] rich character,” says Jan Schotte, associate at BDP Quadrangle.

State-of-the-art recording facility

Universal Music leases 40,000 square feet in the building, encompassing two floors of open-concept office space, a state-of-the art recording studio and a 100-plus capacity main-floor performance centre, the Academy.Andrew Rowat

This approach resonated with Universal Music Canada (UMC), which moved in earlier this year as the anchor tenant.

Canada’s largest record label, UMC leases 40,000 square feet which includes two floors of open-concept office space, a state-of-the art recording studio and a 100-plus capacity main-floor performance centre referred to as the Academy, an intimate space that is wired to the recording studio to capture live performances.

Historic wooden chair backs from Massey Hall hang above the Academy’s bar over a custom-designed light installation featuring a lyric from Ahead by a Century by the Tragically Hip: “no dress rehearsal, this is our life.”

“Our goal is to create a sense of place – from what we’ve built inside the stunning, timber-framed walls, to what’s around us, in the heart of Toronto – a city that drives music and culture,” says Jeffrey Remedios, UMC Music’s chairman and chief executive officer.

UMC tasked architecture firm Superkül with designing the building’s interior to meet the demands of its employees and create an inspirational office environment.

“We designed a space where people could slip into their creative process or grab a coffee just as easily as they could host important meetings or accomplish their daily work,” says Meg Graham, partner at Superkül, explaining that they worked to create a sense of warmth through natural materials, such as felt, leather and wood.

Superkül commissioned artist Kathryn Walter to design the wool-felt walls, a defining feature of the space. Felt is a durable finish that provides acoustic dampening – a strategic material in the context of a relatively open office plan. The use of acoustic fabric as decor is also a nod to the recording industry and music itself.

“The thickness and spacing of the pleats vary, creating a rhythmic pattern,” Ms. Graham explains.

A music, arts and culture hub is born

From the earliest planning phases, UMC recognized the move as an opportunity to engage with the growing arts community in the Village, already home to Live Nation, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), which administers the Juno Awards, and radio and media companies Indie88, JazzFM91, SiriusXM Canada and ZoomerMedia.

Joe Jackman, founder and CEO of consultancy Jackman Reinvents, cites UMC’s arrival as the clincher for his decision to move west to the trendy neighbourhood.

His company’s new digs, also located at 80 Atlantic Ave., occupy 20,000 square feet, taking up the entire fifth floor.

“We had no plans to move,” Mr. Jackman recalls, but was eventually intrigued by the idea of being part of the area’s renewed energy, with its reimagining of many heritage buildings, such as the Toy Factory Lofts (former headquarters of Irwin Toy), on Hanna Avenue, and the Light Factory, (former General Electric’s Canadian head office), on Dufferin Street.

The Village’s boom shows no signs of slowing. In September, First Capital Real Estate Investment Trust announced plans to build three new mixed-use residential towers with office and retail space. Also in the works are plans for a King-Liberty GO Station – one of five new SmartTrack stations.

“Ten years ago, Liberty Village was an emerging node in the city,” says Hullmark’s Mr. Gillin. “Like your favourite band that moves from the fringe to the mainstream, from a club show to a larger arena, we’ve seen the neighbourhood take that same progression.”