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GWLRA invests in renovations, food hall at Halifax’s Purdy’s Wharf

Owner/manager wants downtown office complex to stand out in challenging market

Purdy's Wharf in Halifax. (Courtesy GWLRA / Acorn Art & Photography)
Purdy's Wharf in Halifax. (Courtesy GWLRA / Acorn Art & Photography)

The opening of Bells Lane Kitchen, Halifax’s first food hall, is the latest step in Great West Life Realty Advisors' (GWLRA) efforts to make its Purdy's Wharf complex stand out in a Halifax office market that continues to face vacancy challenges.

The Bells Lane Kitchen area recently opened on the second floor of the four-storey Purdy’s Landing building, which is part of the 695,000-square-foot Purdy’s Wharf mixed-use office property.

Purdy’s Wharf has also been recently enhanced with: 

  • improved lobbies, common areas and elevators;
  • upgraded heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems;
  • upgraded building automation systems;
  • new spiral staircases in the 18- and 22-storey buildings that offer easier access to the outdoors;
  • new way-finding signage and directory boards to help guide visitors through the buildings and pedway system;
  • a new tenant lounge;
  • and an updated park with seating in the centre of the property.

The three-building BOMA Best Gold and LEED Gold-certified complex is owned and internally managed by GWLRA. It utilizes a deep water cooling system for air conditioning and uses 34 per cent less energy than the average commercial building.

All of these endeavours are part of an effort to try to make Purdy’s Wharf stand out in a downtown Halifax office market that had an 18.5 per cent vacancy rate in Q3 2023, according to CBRE.

“The focus of the renovations and the additions to the property were to enhance the offering that we have here to help our tenants attract and retain high-calibre talent for their businesses,” GWLRA director of property management Lisa Miller told RENX. “Our renovations have been focused on helping our tenants and also maintaining the iconic status of the property.

"The food hall was our most recent addition and it is a real game-changer for the property as a whole and for the people who work here.”

Bells Lane Kitchen

Bells Lane Kitchen is operated by locally owned Scanway Catering and offers a variety of food stations covering a number of different global cuisines, including Mediterranean, North and South American, Indian and Asian.

It also includes a licensed bar, a coffee bar and a market that sells produce, bread, milk and other staples as well as take-home meals.

“It’s not just a place to eat,” said Miller. “It's a place that people can gather and hold meetings or socialize with their colleagues.”

The early feedback has been very positive, according to Miller.

Benefit from Cogswell District project

The new Bells Lane Kitchen at Purdy's Wharf in Halifax. (Courtesy GWLRA / Acorn Art & Photography)
The new Bells Lane Kitchen at Purdy's Wharf in Halifax. (Courtesy GWLRA / Acorn Art & Photography)

In addition to the buildings themselves, Purdy’s Wharf’s waterfront views and location on Upper Water Street are also a draw for tenants and their employees. Its seven-storey covered parkade also accounts for a large portion of all downtown parking inventory.

Purdy’s Wharf will also benefit from the Cogswell District project, which will convert 16 acres of redundant road infrastructure into a mixed-use neighbourhood, extend the entrance of downtown northwards and reunite communities separated by the interchange lands. 

An urban street grid will be reinstated and create development blocks capable of supporting new residential and commercial environments for 2,500 people.

Dedicated cycling lanes, multi-use trails, new parks and open spaces, a reimagined transit hub, and a central square will also transform the traffic-centric area into a more livable and pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood.

Purdy’s Wharf sits alongside the development, which Miller said is about halfway through construction, and should be able to capitalize on its strategic location to attract more tenants and visitors.

“It's a great project for the city and we're going to be front-and-centre to that,” said Miller.

“We anticipate a lot more foot traffic in this area and a lot more pedestrian traffic at the ground level, so we're looking at how we can activate the exterior of the property as well as what we’ve done with the interior.”

Lots of vacant space in Purdy’s Wharf

Purdy’s Wharf’s three buildings have a combined 685,058 square feet of office space and Purdy’s Landing also has 9,922 feet of retail space.

They’re occupied by more than 2,300 people working there each day and are home to more than 100 businesses. 

The flight to quality, which these changes at Purdy’s Wharf are looking to capitalize on, continues in the Halifax office market.

The CBRE third-quarter report said the downtown class-A vacancy rate experienced its eighth consecutive quarter of decline to sit at 21.7 per cent.

While the demand for modern, well-amenitized assets continues to outperform older, less desirable alternatives, the 1985-to-1989-built Purdy’s Wharf still has a significant amount of vacancy.

According to the GWLRA Leasing website, Purdy’s Wharf’s Tower One had 13 available office suites, the McInnes Cooper Tower had 15 available office suites and Purdy’s Landing had four available office suites. 

These vacancies ranged in size from a 1,003-square-foot suite in McInnes Cooper Tower up to four entire floors, each with a 19,365-square-foot footprint, available in Tower One.

Vacant sublease opportunities rose for a third consecutive quarter in Q3, according to CBRE, which was primarily driven by remote work and cost containment strategies.

Subleases represented 5.2 per cent of vacant office space in downtown Halifax.

Companies including call centres and technology firms have started shedding space and elevated levels of vacant sublease space are expected to persist until the economy begins to stabilize.

Buildings are still busy

While not able to comment on the return-to-office policies of individual tenants, Miller observed that most seem to be flexible but are encouraging employees to be in the office.

“We are seeing quite a few people back in the office here at Purdy’s,” Miller said. “We’ve been very lucky in that regard.

"People are in the space at least three to four days out of the week, if not five.”

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