Toronto is currently in a very bullish real estate market. Demand for space is at an all-time high, with vacancy rates, particularly in Downtown West, at historically low levels. That being said, with many new developments flooding the market, and with a number of unique leasing options available to tenants, including short term and desk leases available (like WeWork), it is important to attract the right type of tenants at the right rates for your properties.
We sat down with Jeff Wolfe of WolfeCorp to get his take on the finer points of building a commercial community in this unique and sought-after location.
How do you ensure you attract the right type of tenants?
We continue to adapt our buildings to meet the needs of the market. Fresh air, collaborative space, and character elements are criteria that tenants really push for. We have renovated, updated and modernized our spaces to provide just that. We back up the physical experience with a hands-on approach to property management. We are both owners and operators and are proud of the experience our team and our buildings can provide.
How do you ensure your properties stand out in the market and leave a memorable impression on tenants looking for space?
The buildings really speak for themselves. We have been careful to maintain and conserve many of the heritage elements of our properties. In some cases, when items need to be replaced, we have adapted them into artwork that we have displayed in lobbies and corridors. For example, at 49 Spadina, we have displayed boiler plates on the walls and re-used and finished old beams as seating throughout the building.
What types of amenities do you find today’s tenants are looking for?
In addition to unique interior spaces, tenants are looking for amenities that improve the convenience and experience of being at work. Anything from weather protected bicycle stalls, showers, change rooms, collaborative common space, gyms, and unique retail options are all drivers for today’s tenants. On top of that, accommodating tenants needs whether that be for bespoke fit-outs, expansion rights, or operational requests is an important aspect of managing a building.
What has been one of the most unique requests you’ve seen to date?
One of our longstanding tenants had a meeting with a new automotive client. They wanted to bring a car into the building. It was a great idea, but not without its challenges. So, on a Friday night, we took out 3 bays of their office windows, craned the car through and drove it into their boardroom. The client showed up Monday morning just as the final coat of paint was drying. This is what we are prepared to do.
How have you modified or updated your properties over the years to meet the demands of the leasing market?
49 Spadina has undergone extensive renovations. All of the lobbies, corridors, washrooms, suite entrances and mechanical have been modernized. Tenants are especially appreciative that each washroom is its own individual powder room. We have also installed weather protected bicycle stalls and change rooms. The bike rooms have automatic, self-locking doors which allow our tenants to easily bring their bikes into the building and keep them secure. With the LCBO moving their flagship store into our building this summer, we created two lobbies – one for office and one for retail – which both showcase the heritage of the building. Keep your eyes peeled for a rooftop deck, hopefully coming summer 2019.
510 Front, 495 Wellington and 517 Wellington have all been renovated to a similar extent. Our goal is to create a tenant-friendly front of house experience throughout the whole building. We have a large international retail tenant moving in in 2020 that will add a unique element to the block and showcase some truly remarkable architecture and engineering.
You manage a number of historic buildings. What challenges come with this?
Over the years, we have worked to ensure our mechanical, electrical and structural are best-in-class. This has eliminated many of the typical issues seen in older buildings. That said, character buildings are unique. You need to know how to work with uneven floors, walls that are not straight, slanted columns, etc. Each day can bring a new challenge, but we are passionate about these buildings. They have been part of our family for a long time and have a great history.
How do you promote your available space?
We have great relationships with the broker community and continue to develop these and look for great partners. Real estate is a relationship-driven industry and when the leasing community understands your goals for your buildings – whether that be tenant mix, use or rate – you can craft the spaces and implement your vision. Our website will soon be launching an interactive “find space” platform that will showcase the features and benefits of both our buildings and any available space. With more consumers making online decisions, we hope that by making ourselves available and transparent, tenants will be able to see the unique workspaces we have and the character of the neighbourhood we call home.