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Dream, Theia Partners to build Ottawa office building at Zibi

Ottawa’s largest ongoing development will also be home to its first major new downtown office bui...

IMAGE: An overview of the Zibi development in Ottawa and Gatineau, a $1.5-billion project which will comprise 43 buildings when complete. (Courtesy Zibi)

An overview of the Zibi development in Ottawa and Gatineau, a $1.5-billion project which will comprise 43 buildings when complete. (Courtesy Zibi)

Ottawa’s largest ongoing development will also be home to its first major new downtown office building in more than five years. The developers of Zibi, a $1.5-billion mixed-use community straddling the Ontario-Quebec border, are about to break ground on an eight-storey building.

“Block 211 is a 200,000-square-foot, class-A commercial office building that we’re breaking ground on as we speak,” Zibi president Jeff Westeinde told RENX Wednesday during the opening of the Zibi House sales centre and observation tower.

“We’ve got a couple of 100,000-square-foot-plus tenants that we are very close to being able to make some announcements on.”

The eight-storey mid-rise building is targeted for delivery as early as 2022. To be located on Chaudiere Island in the Ottawa portion of the project, it will join three other smaller office buildings already under construction at the sprawling Zibi property.

Two smaller three-storey buildings on the Gatineau side, known as Blocks 2 and 3 (totalling about 55,000 square feet) are repurposed “brick-and-beam” type offices. They’ll be joined by an overhead glass atrium, creating the effect of just one building. They’ll feature a covered courtyard between the buildings at ground level, with numerous retail offerings opening onto the courtyard and pedestrian area.

Block 208 is a separate, four-storey, 35,000-square-foot brick-and-beam office building. Located on the adjacent Chaudiere Island portion of the development, it will also be a refurbished structure.

Block 211, by contrast, will be a brand new project constructed from the ground up.

“Tremendous interest” in commercial space

Westeinde said now that tangible work is being done on more buildings at Zibi — much of the focus so far has been on infrastructure and a couple of condo buildings which kicked off the development — potential commercial tenants are taking notice.

“We’re seeing a tremendous amount of interest for our bricks, post and beam offerings. It’s so unique in the area,” he said.

Zibi is a partnership between Theia Partners (an offshoot of Windmill Developments) and majority owner Dream Unlimited (DRM-T). Michael Cooper, the president and chief responsible officer of Dream, said building construction is about to kick into high gear as more of the infrastructure is completed. 

“What we’ve really spent the last 18 months on is getting the servicing done, a lot of the design done . . . starting to work on permits so we are able to deliver what people want,” Cooper told RENX, noting the bulk of that work wraps up later this year.

“Now we are trying to compress the time between making a decision, and being able to deliver the product, so you will see a lot happening here.

“We are going to be able to build quicker here than we can in other places. We have the overall zoning, we have great relationships with the governing bodies, we have construction people on-site, we have a lot of the consultants ready to go and they’ve started their work.”

IMAGE: The eight-storey observation tower above Zibi House. (Courtesy Zibi)

The eight-storey observation tower above Zibi House. (Courtesy Zibi)

Zibi “as exciting as it gets”

As big projects go, this is the largest for both major partners. Cooper said he visits the site about once a month.

“This project is almost three times as big as the Distillery District and the Distillery district is a major, major project,” Cooper said, comparing Zibi in scope to two large Toronto developments. “The Pan-Am athletes’ village is 20 acres, and not 35 (acres).

“I would say what is exciting about this project is it’s so big, there’s going to be 5,000 people living here, probably 6,000 to 7,000 people working here, there’s 43 different building sites. Putting all that together to try to build a world-class community that could only happen in the National Capital Region is as exciting as it gets in this business.”

As construction heads toward a peak, likely in 2020, Zibi will also begin to add more permanent residents. A 149-unit, 14-storey apartment tower will begin to rise this fall, and the building will also be home to the project’s district energy system.

The system, already in use on the Quebec (Gatineau) portion of the site, will dramatically decrease Zibi’s environmental footprint. It was a key component in Zibi achieving One Planet designation, meaning it adheres to a series of critical sustainability principles.

Zibi House and observation tower

Sustainability is built into every facet of the project, from repurposing materials on-site, refurbishing existing buildings, to the used shipping containers and recycled building materials utilized in Zibi House.

Far from a traditional sales centre, Zibi House includes “experience rooms” designed to stimulate each of a visitor’s senses. It also includes a wall-sized, interactive screen allowing visitors to preview and track the various stages of the development, a scale model of the project site, and the crowning glory, an eight-storey viewing station overlooking the property.

After a quick ride up in the elevator, visitors can step into a glassed-in enclosure offering almost a 360-degree view of the Ottawa River, Ottawa, Gatineau and the construction site.

“Zibi is really about creating those unforgettable experiences,” Westeinde said in explaining the concept for Zibi House. “This centre does exactly that. It teases your five senses while at the same time telling the story not only of our development, but of our region.

“There are not many places in the nation’s capital where you can get up and have the view that we’ve got.”

Visitors will be able to enjoy the view after May 1, when the tower opens to the public.

IMAGE: An artist's conception of Zibi, which straddles the Ottawa River in both Ottawa and Gatineau. (Courtesy Zibi)

An artist’s conception of Zibi, which straddles the Ottawa River in both Ottawa and Gatineau. (Courtesy Zibi)

Residents now living on-site

Residents, meanwhile, continue to fill up the first condo building at Zibi, known simply as O. The six-storey, 70-unit building on the Gatineau side is over 90 per cent sold. People began to move in as of November 2018, attracted by the location, the breadth of the project itself and its One Planet designation.

“You end up, kind of, self-selecting your buyer with a project like this,” said Thomas Desjardins, a senior community specialist at Zibi, who provided a tour to RENX earlier this year. “They tend to be early adopters and more progressive downsizing buyers who really understand what we’re doing.”

On the Ottawa side the six-storey, 71-unit Kanaal condo is slated for completion late in 2019. A a mix of urban condo flats, two-storey towns and flow-through penthouses with private rooftop terraces, it’s virtually sold out and on track to start delivering units in December.

Zibi is one of only 10 One Planet communities in the world and the first in Canada. The idea was developed in the United Kingdom and is based on having communities abide by zero-carbon, zero-waste, sustainable transport, sustainable materials and other planet-friendly guidelines.

The O Condos target LEED Platinum certification. Dream and Theia are experimenting with a bevy of features in the buildings, which use low VOC finishes, a purple pipe system which recycles rainwater for toilets and irrigation, and low-flow plumbing. Unit-level temperature controls work via smart app and double-glazed argon gas-filled windows assist with heating and cooling.

Busy summer of construction ahead

The building is full of reclaimed materials. In fact, 98 per cent of the waste created by Zibi’s construction will be recycled over its build lifetime. Several artifacts were taken from the former E.B. Eddy mill once synonymous with the Chaudière Falls.

Throughout O are repurposed wooden beams which have been turned into benches, wood accents on the walls and elevator areas.

The emphasis on sustainability will be continued in all aspects of the development.

“I would say we’re really at the beginning,” Cooper said.  “One condo is finished, another will be completed later this year.

“We have two commercial buildings we are getting ready, we’re looking at building a large office building, doing a lot of public squares and city parks, so a lot will happen this summer.”

– With files from Marc Shaw


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