Purdy’s Wharf re-enters crowded Halifax office leasing market

IMAGE: GWL Realty Advisors is in the final stages of its major renovation program at the Purdy's Wharf office complex in Halifax. (Courtesy CBRE)

GWL Realty Advisors is in the final stages of its major renovation program at the Purdy’s Wharf office complex in Halifax. (Courtesy CBRE)

Renovations at Halifax’s Purdy’s Wharf are in the home stretch, and owner GWL Realty Advisors has enlisted CBRE to market and lease more than 200,000 square feet of office and retail space which will be available in its three buildings.

Purdy’s Wharf is a 700,000-square-foot, class-AAA office complex comprised of connected 22- and 18-storey towers and the four-storey Purdy’s Landing building.

The buildings offer a direct connection to the Halifax waterfront boardwalk and Atlantic Canada’s largest indoor pedway system, with access to restaurants, entertainment and transportation services.

Purdy’s Wharf has a seven-storey covered parkade with 1,080 stalls that accounts for approximately 20 per cent of downtown Halifax’s parking inventory. Purdy’s Wharf tenants get priority parking access.

Other amenities include: Wi-Fi-enabled communal workspaces; shops and services; covered bicycle parking and a lending program; on-site daycare and fitness centres; green outdoor spaces; and water commuter docking.

Purdy’s Wharf renovations

Purdy’s Wharf was built between 1985 and 1989 but has recently undergone millions of dollars in renovations scheduled for completion by the end of the year. It will feature a redesigned food hall and the conversion of former office space into a main floor restaurant with a patio overlooking Halifax Harbour.

“Renovations at Purdy’s are aimed at ensuring the property is offering an environment that will assist tenants in attracting and maintaining high-calibre talent,” Purdy’s Wharf property manager Lisa Miller told RENX.

Renovations include: modernized lobbies; a new tenant lounge; upgraded landscaping; new spiral staircases in each building connecting the pedway level with the ground floor; new and faster elevators with destination dispatch; and digital heating, ventilation and air-conditioning controls.

Purdy’s Wharf was the first building in Atlantic Canada to receive a LEED EB:OM Gold Certification, and embraces green initiatives guided by BOMA BEST practices.

Innovations include an energy-efficient cooling system which circulates cold seawater through a heat exchanger system with the building’s cooling water. It claims to use 34 per cent less energy than the average commercial building.

“Purdy’s Wharf has always been, and will continue to be, the market leader in sustainability, amenities, customer service, management and overall location for discerning tenants in Halifax,” said Miller. “The combination of access to land, sea and sky is part of what makes the property unique.

“Its iconic status as the backdrop to photographs of Halifax’s waterfront will never be matched.”

New buildings increase competition

The office space is coming to a market that has a vacancy rate of about 20 per cent for downtown class-A office properties. A number of office buildings have been built downtown in the last five years, or are still being built.

CBRE associate vice-president Mat Houston said this has created a shuffle of tenants as some move to newer buildings.

“It has created a competitive environment for downtown class-A office space,” Houston told RENX. “Purdy’s is one of those buildings that has been very successful over a long period of time, but some tenants coming up for renewal moved to the newer product.”

Armour Group’s nine-storey, 85,500-square-foot RBC Waterside Centre opened in 2014 and the floor area of the TD Centre approximately doubled in size to about 200,000 square feet following a 2014 renovation.

Argyle Developments’ 270,000-square-foot Nova Centre — offering a mix of office, retail, hotel and convention space — opened in late 2017.

Armour Group’s $200-million Queen’s Marque mixed-use development will add 120,000 square feet of office space in the central business district on Halifax’s waterfront when it opens next year. All of the space has been pre-leased.

Purdy’s Wharf current, future tenants

CBRE was chosen to handle leasing for Purdy’s Wharf’s vacant space after an extensive request for proposal process involving commercial real estate brokers in the marketplace.

The biggest tenants at Purdy’s Wharf include law firms McInnes Cooper and Cox & Palmer, as well as professional services firm KPMG, according to Houston.

“For a long time, Purdy’s was the main law firm headquarters in Atlantic Canada,” said Houston. “Accounting offices were all there, too.

“We’re trying to diversify a bit, so we’re looking at tech companies. We won’t just do long-term deals. We’ll look at doing deals with innovation companies and tech companies that need two-year deals, with the ability to grow.”

Regus has a floor of co-working space in one of the towers. Houston said CBRE plans to work with the company when tenants graduate from there so they could consider other space in Purdy’s Wharf.

Houston said Purdy’s Wharf has just under 100,000 square feet of space available now, but two other large tenants are moving out in May, which will leave 200,000 to 225,000 square feet empty next year.

Floorplates are just under 20,000 square feet and Houston said there are five full floors together which can be leased for a total of about 100,000 square feet.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities in Halifax for larger-scale tenants,” he added.

Downtown Halifax office and residential markets

Miller expects positive absorption at Purdy’s Wharf over the next 24 months.

“It is challenging to fully gauge the exact leasing timelines, given absorption rates can be highly influenced by market conditions that may be out of our control,” she said.

“However, we expect the market and the existing tenants will appreciate the capital expenditures in the complex and see the benefits of these added amenities.”

Houston said activity in downtown Halifax is the most vibrant he’s seen it in the 14 years he’s lived there and the residential real estate market on the Halifax Peninsula is the hottest it’s been in 30 years.

“We’re seeing a lot of multires construction downtown, so a lot of density is being brought back to the downtown core and Halifax Peninsula, which is going to be good for the office market. It will bleed into people wanting to work downtown, so companies will be pulled to the downtown core.

“There was a period of time when most of the new office buildings were being built in the suburbs, so we saw some people leaving the downtown core and moving to the suburbs.

“Now we’re seeing a trend of people coming back to the downtown core. Our mayor and our city planners have put a lot of effort into densifying the downtown again.”

Steve is a veteran writer, reporter, editor and communications specialist whose work has appeared in a wide variety of print and online outlets. He’s the author of the book Hot…

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Steve is a veteran writer, reporter, editor and communications specialist whose work has appeared in a wide variety of print and online outlets. He’s the author of the book Hot…

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