The Booth Street Complex  Redevelopment – One Step Closer to Reality

By Sue Stefko
(Appeared in Glebe Report March 2018)

Canada Lands Company (CLC) held a public open house to unveil its draft preferred concept plan for the Booth St. Complex on February 15th. While the company purchased the land in the fall of 2015, the public process started slightly more than a year ago, in January 2017. Then, as now, nearby residents expressed much interest in the site, in what has often been touted as Ottawa’s answer to Toronto’s distillery district, with approximately 100 residents out to see the unveiling.

While a number of people were concerned about the height of the site’s five proposed towers, and some expressed concern regarding what the development would do to traffic, congestion, and already present parking woes, the majority of attendees were pleased to see the plans for the complex, most of which has been sitting idle since well before Natural Resources Canada declared the buildings surplus in 2011.

The plan maintains the heritage buildings on the site, which were built between the 1930s and the 1950s. To the delight of many local residents, the smokestack, which was not in fact declared as heritage, but is seen by many as a community icon, will be maintained.  The site will feature a city park, as well as a number of privately-owned but publicly accessible areas such as courtyards and sitting areas. The plans for the site include a number of environmental features, such as permeable pavings and green roofs, in order to allow for adequate drainage, a welcome addition in a heavily developed part of the city marked by asphalt and other hard, impermeable surfaces.

While the use of the buildings has yet to be determined and will depend on the developers and tenants ultimately interested in the site, the area is expected to include a mix of residential and commercial, including the possibility of office space. To the relief of many residents, large chain stores are not likely to be interested in the development, due to the relatively small size of the buildings’ footprints (imposed by the existing size of the heritage buildings).

One of the concerns expressed, however, is if the development itself will actually be like the friendly, animated spaces shown in CLC’s promotional literature. While both CLC and Stantec, the architectural firm which designed the site renderings, agree that the community will not see the exact replica of the buildings on the site, every effort will be made to keep the environmental, heritage and community-friendly features of the plans intact. This will be helped by architectural guidelines laid out by CLC, which will help ensure the green spaces and publicly accessible areas will remain intact. Likewise, heritage designation will ensure that developers, to the extent possible, will keep the buildings in place.

Considering development timelines for projects of this size, CLC is looking to move fairly quickly. The company plans to submit updated zoning applications to the city this month and, by the end of the month, will start remediating the site. While some of it was remediated in recent efforts, a good deal of the site is still contaminated. It’s expected that, once these steps are completed, that CLC will able to start marketing to developers in early 2019.  While firm timelines cannot yet be predicted, it is hoped that shovels could be in the ground by 2022. Whether the site will be developed by one developer, or split amongst a number of different developers, has yet to be determined.

This project is one of several that is promising to transform the neighbourhood south of the 417 in the years to come. The first is of course the condo boom occurring at the south end of Preston St. While a number of projects have been delayed due to slowing sales, the potential development of more than a dozen condominium towers with up to 2,000 units will significantly change the feel of the neighbourhood. In addition, another large area has been declared surplus by Natural Resources Canada – a 3.3 acre, 300 parking space parking lot between Bell St. South and Lebreton St. South at Carling Ave was acquired in 2017 by CLC, and will soon be developed by CLC and the Algonquins of Ontario. Finally, rumours persist about the condition of the Booth St Complex buildings built in the 1950s – particularly the sprawling buildings at 601 and 615 Booth, which could yield a development area of up to 14 acres. These projects, and others in the immediate vicinity, such as the development of the new Civic hospital site south of Carling Avenue, promise/threaten to change this neighbourhood dramatically within the next number of years.  Watch this space!

Artist’s view of a privately owned, publicly accessible area near the northeast corner of the site as viewed from Booth Street. The re-established historic Lydia Street is shown as a pedestrian walkway to the right. (Canada Lands)

Rendering of the site from the south-west corner (Canada Lands)