The area that surrounds the intersection of King Street and Strachan Avenue is one of those pockets of the city known, if it's known at all, primarily for what it's not. It's not the bustling development hub of Liberty Village to the southwest. It's not the scenester destination of Queen West, where locals flock to cafés, bookstores and Trinity Bellwoods Park, just a few blocks north. It's not the thumping core of the Entertainment District to the east.
It's a neighbourhood in search of an identity – and the work being done inside the eight-storey building at 901 King St. W. aims to turn it into Toronto's newest creative hub.
It was built in the 1990s as a data centre. Until recently, the building was home to Infrastructure Ontario IT workers. There is a Shoppers Drug Mart and Pizza Nova on the ground floor. Across the street are a gas station and a dingy hotel. Past that, there is an old auto garage and some residential infill. Amid all of this, developers saw an opportunity.
With leases up that left the building with nearly 100-per-cent vacancy, Crown Realty Partners, who bought the building in 2011, has set about filling it with companies that work in various creative industries. Their presence will, it is hoped, have a ripple effect on the surrounding area, attracting similar businesses and the types of restaurants and retail that cater to employees with tattoos on their arms and web design on their resumés.
"We're going to go after the people who are in the brick-and-beam buildings," says Les Miller, Crown Realty's president and chief operating officer. Think web design, advertising and companies that work in film and television.
To do so, Crown has launched a few small, but attractive, improvements: new secured bike spaces and showers for people who want to ride to work, a shuttle service that will take people directly to and from Union Station, and a concierge service. "Our whole approach to it was to dress it down. It was too stuffy," Mr. Miller says of the building. Such amenities are now offered to attract a "younger generation."
There is no criteria for choosing tenants, Mr. Miller says. "There are accounting firms and law firms that aren't necessarily in the normal corporate structure that have set up funky offices, if you want to describe them as that. You do attract, just through word of mouth in the marketplace, those tenants that have a certain culture."
The plan's biggest "catalyst," says Mr. Miller, is the newly renovated offices of Quadrangle Architects. "We use them as an example for future tenants."
Quadrangle, which employs roughly 100 people, moved in last year. The firm had outgrown its prior location in the garment district, which it had called home since 1996. At the new building, it has stripped away a bland, bureaucratic space and converted it to an airy office with high windows that offer views of the city.
"We needed a bigger space, but we needed something that was more conducive to the kind of creativity we were pushing in-house and promoting," says Ted Shore, a principal at Quadrangle.
The firm, whose work ranges from the BMW showroom bordering the Don Valley Parkway to the interior of the Corus Entertainment building on the waterfront, has already helped attract creative companies. Spin, a visual effects studio, and Instaclick, a website development and design company, both now call the building home. Deluxe Toronto, which specializes in post-production work for film and television, will move in early next year.
"We love the concept of a creative cluster community where like-minded tenants would be located in the building," says Dan McLellan, executive vice-president of Deluxe Toronto.
The company, which will be moving from its current location on the east side of downtown early in the new year, has hired Quadrangle to renovate its new offices. The renovation includes tearing off part of the roof to accommodate a 25-foot high film mixing stage.
With the neighbourhood's proximity to Liberty Village, which is already home to many creative industry companies, and Queen West, similar businesses see it as primed to attract a migration, Mr. McLellan says.
"I've already talked to countless colleagues and other partners we have in the entertainment industry who are keenly interested in that neighbourhood," he says.
With Liberty Village continuing to expand, and two new pedestrian bridges in the works that will improve the flow of people in and out of the neighbourhood, there is good reason to believe it will have an effect on the area surrounding 901 King St. W.
"You're going to see more of a work and play area develop," Mr. Miller says.