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creative hub

The new screening room at Deluxe Toronto Ltd. – a full-scale theatre with a wide array of editing consoles that was added to the top of the property at 901 King St. W.

There's no mistaking that the new offices of Deluxe Toronto Ltd. is at the intersection of technology and creativity. Pithy film quotes roll out across glass partitions in high-ceilinged rooms. Control boards worthy of a starship span big studios, including a full-scale eight-metre-high editing theatre.

Each year, more than two dozen feature films and 14 television series are given post-production treatment and then are distributed from Deluxe's 62,000-square-feet of space located in the top three floors of 901 King St.W.

Six other creative companies that in the past might have decided to locate in older industrial space or suburbia have also moved into the same building on the western edge of downtown Toronto since renovations began in 2012.

Yet from the outside, the 23-year-old building gives little hint of the innovation within. The eight-storey glass and concrete office tower was originally built in the 1990s for the most establishment of clients: a bank and the provincial government.

The roster of the building's current tenants, though, is a reflection of a national trend – maturing high-tech companies are migrating from suburban areas and brick-and-beam warehouses to more traditional downtown office space closer to amenities and transit.

A recent Colliers International report traces the trend across North America. It notes that in the past, creative zones such as Silicon Valley in California, the Kanata North Business Park in Ottawa and the Discovery Parks in Vancouver attracted tech startups because of lower rents and their need for large spaces for equipment. A steady stream of newly graduated workers were willing to commute for their work.

Now, however, tech companies, particularly those that focus on Web design, program design and e-commerce, are relying less on hardware and more on software. The Colliers report says they are becoming increasingly concerned with retaining talented employees and therefore are shifting to downtown spaces where young, creative employees prefer to live.

For example, Google and LinkedIn have recently made deals to lease big spaces in Toronto's city core. In Ottawa, which traditionally saw tech migrate to the suburbs, Shopify has leased 100,000 square feet in a new Class A office building in the downtown core.

Growing tech companies are looking for open-concept office space with high ceilings, not the cubicle-farm layouts of finance, legal and government offices they're replacing.

In fact, the 901 King Street property didn't stand out originally because it seemed too corporate, says Nick Iannelli, vice-president of operations and customer service at Deluxe Toronto Ltd.

When the post-production firm learned that its former warehouse space in downtown Toronto was to be replaced by a condominium building, it looked at more than 30 alternatives.

The building was about to be 87 per cent vacant when Crown Realty Partners and LaSalle Investment Management became co-owners in September of 2011, says Scott Watson, Crown Realty's partner of leasing and marketing.

The team felt the building could fit with the evolution of nearby Liberty Village, further to the west along King. That gentrified area has attracted creative companies and is seeing high demand for office space, much of it in former industrial and warehouse buildings.

But the building at 901 King needed a radical redesign to make it attractive to "creative class" tenants. The first new tenant was Quadrangle Architects Ltd., which ripped out drop ceilings in its space to expose pipes and industrial-looking design elements. Office dividers were eliminated or replaced by glass walls to create an open concept.

That inspired Deluxe to look more closely at the potential of 901 King, but their wish list included things that required major surgery to the building, Mr. Iannelli says. A must-have was a full-size theatre, which required a ceiling height of more than eight metres.

Quadrangle took on the design challenge, creating a two-storey addition to the rear of the top floor to provide the needed height. A large section of the concrete roof was cut out in 150-kilogram chunks, which were removed for disposal on passenger elevators that were also being used by other tenants in the building.

The changes have definitely worked to make the building a creative hub, Mr. Iannelli says. Deluxe's neighbours now include Spin VFX Productions, Portfolio Entertainment Inc., QuickPlay Media Inc., Instaclick and Workplace One.

"We've ended up with a cool roster of tenants," Mr. Watson says. The building is now 99.9 per cent leased.

It is not only a creative place to work but the area around it has also become an attractive place to live, Mr. Iannelli adds. A recent staff survey found nearly 20 per cent of Deluxe's 125 staff members live around the King West area or the downtown core. Several employees who have moved to Toronto from Deluxe operations in California have also taken up residence in Liberty Village.

The location has made it easier for Deluxe to recruit talent, Mr. Iannelli says. "There are a lot of amenities within walking distance, even during lunch break or for an after-work drink or dinner. A lot of them [employees] are young and active and quality of life is important to them."

That's backed up by the 2014 outlook on real estate trends by consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers and the non-profit Urban Land Institute. It concludes urban living has ceased to be an emerging trend and is now the "new normal."

"Younger workers in particular – though not exclusively – continue to flock to the urban core, preferring to work where they live, rather than take on long commutes," the report says.

"The movement of workers is driving location decisions for many employers."

Deluxe treatment

Once a feature production is a wrap, all the steps needed to get it to a screen can be done in the three floors of studios at Deluxe Toronto.

Sound – Sound tracks are mixed and noise removed in audio studios. Actors can re-record lines or do voice-overs.

Lights – Colourists review scenes frame-by-frame to balance tones between shots, remove imperfections and enhance highlights.

Roll 'em – Ready for release, television features are stored on banks of servers that provide on-demand feeds to clients such as Netflix.

Distribution – Feature films are now sent to theatres on hard drives that hold several terabytes of data.

Archiving – Banks of computers provide long-term storage; older productions stored on video tape can be digitized and enhanced.

Piracy patrol – All features produced for Deluxe's clients contain digital fingerprints. Technicians in a large monitoring room scan the Internet to detect illegal uses of copyright material.

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