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The main entrance of Performance Court in Ottawa nestles in a pocket park between two heritage buildings – the Grant House, left, and the First Baptist Church.

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A new landmark office tower has opened in downtown Ottawa which, through a deal with the city, delivers public spaces and cultural amenities to the community and sustainability features to its tenants.

Performance Court, a Class-A, 21-storey building, was developed by Morguard Corp. and Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP). Its conceptual design was chosen in a formal competition by the municipality, which owned the land at 150 Elgin St. in the city's business district.

The $162-million finished project includes a seventh-floor public terrace with sweeping views of the city, a pocket park, an art gallery and a 140-year-old heritage structure preserved partly within its walls. It's also built to LEED Gold standard, with green features such as an underground cistern, reduced energy consumption and locally sourced materials, including pine reclaimed from the bottom of the Ottawa River.

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The 360,000-square-foot building is almost 90 per cent leased to an eclectic mix of organizations, including the Canada Council for the Arts and accounting firm KPMG. Bringing in such tenants, amidst a rising vacancy rate in the capital, stemming from federal government downsizing and slow private-sector growth, speaks to its unique elements and the draw of its public benefits.

"These are things you just don't get in a typical office building," says Margaret Knowles, senior vice-president of development for Morguard Investments Ltd., who calls Performance Court "unusual from start to finish."

The building's name is intended to signify its commitment to performance, from its environmentally sustainable architecture and design by Montreal's NEUF architect(e)s to the ability of the arts community to engage in its public spaces. Ms. Knowles says that Morguard was especially favoured in the city's 2003-04 design competition because it was "respectful" of the 1878 First Baptist Church and the 1875 Grant House, both on its forecourt. The latter will become the flagship restaurant of Stephen Beckta, an award-winning local restaurateur.

She says Morguard was also chosen for its sleek podium design, which makes Performance Court less overbearing on surrounding buildings, as well as its low carbon footprint and commitment to honour the building's location on traditional Algonquin land.

Peter Radke, manager of realty initiatives and development for the City of Ottawa, says the building's public space "makes it more interactive with the streetscape." The project brings a more diverse look and unique character to the city, he says, noting that Morguard has also provided a 10-year lease at a reduced rate to Tourism Ottawa, which will be able to hold events on the building terrace.

The wide-open, panoramic space, which overlooks landmarks such as Ottawa City Hall and Confederation Square and has views to the magnificent Gatineau Hills in the distance, stretches for 6,000 square feet atop the podium. It is open to the public until midnight seven days a week, with gardens, benches, a fireplace and a large barbecue for tenant use. Ms. Knowles says it's already taking bookings for events, such as receptions.

The grand three-storey street-level entrance atrium – appropriately for Ottawa named the Winter Garden – includes Ajagemo, a 3,000-square-foot street-level art gallery that displays curated exhibitions of contemporary artwork from the Canada Council Art Bank. Ajagemo means "crossroads" in Algonquin, and the aboriginal heritage is echoed in the installation of a traditional birch-bark canoe made by Algonquin artist Daniel (Pinock) Smith. Just inside the building's main doors is a three-storey high interactive video wall, for which the Canada Council is commissioning original digital art.

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Ms. Knowles says that Class-A buildings today "have to give that extra value, otherwise you're not going to get top dollar and you're not going to get the kind of tenants we're getting."

Robert Sirman, director and chief executive officer of the Canada Council, whose logo is above the building entrance, says the interior and exterior public spaces allow the organization to "increase our civic and cultural footprint in Ottawa, and invite residents and visitors alike to interact with the arts in new ways."

He says the Canada Council wanted to transmit its values and mandate into its offices. "You walk in off the street and you know you're in artistically animated space."

Grant McDonald, office managing partner at KPMG, which has its name atop the building, says Performance Court offered "the professional image we were looking for," which is critical to recruitment and retention of staff and clients in its highly competitive field. "We think this is something that will put us over the edge."

Other tenants in the building include e-commerce company Shopify, as well as Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and the New Zealand High Commission.

Kelvin Holmes, managing director with Colliers International in Ottawa, says buildings with significant amenities are largely sought after by private-sector companies or organizations looking for "competitive advantage," branding themselves and attracting talent and customers.

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With its so-called 2.0 real estate strategy, meanwhile, the federal government is reducing the footprint it needs to house staff, as well as decentralizing. Where the city's vacancy rate was a low 5 per cent a couple of years ago, it's now 9.5 per cent and rising, Mr. Holmes notes. With recent pullouts by the public service, the vacancy rate for Class-C buildings is 23.7 per cent, for Class-B buildings it's 8.5 per cent and for Class-A buildings it's 7.4 per cent.

Performance Court adds to the vacancy rate, he says, but such buildings may encourage young, dynamic companies to locate in Ottawa. A new convention centre, light-rail system and condo development are bringing people downtown, he adds. "We'll be seeing a greater emphasis on the people side of real estate, rather than just the numbers."

Tenants such as Shopify "want to be in the core, because that's where their employees want to be. People don't want to get in the car any more and spend an hour commuting," Ms. Knowles agrees.

She says that Performance Court sets a new standard for urban development everywhere. "We meticulously thought through every detail to build a landmark in Ottawa that will define sustainable commercial real estate development for years to come."

Performance Court facts

– The project's $162-million cost includes restoration of the heritage Grant House.

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– Morguard is responsible for the leasing and property management of Performance Court. Rent ranges from $28-$32 per square foot, based on standard commercial real estate variables from length of lease to fit-up.

– Typical office floor size: 16,000-25,000 square feet.

– Building officially opened June 18. Some tenants took occupancy earlier this year, while others are completing their fit-outs for future occupancy, and two full floors remain to be leased (16,000 square feet each).

– A "destination dispatch" system for the elevators uses algorithms to maximize their efficiency and minimize wait times. Tenants select their desired floor on a panel at ground level, and are directed to the correct elevator car, which does not have any buttons inside but whisks them up to their destination.

– Morguard is the largest commercial property landlord in Ottawa, overseeing more than five million square feet of space in the city. The firm owns or manages some $15-billion in commercial real estate across Canada.

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