Waterloo exists as a place of constant transformation.

Once-shuttered manufacturing buildings now serve as lofts, retail spaces, offices and cultural hubs. Look around and you’ll see the Bauer, Kaufman, Seagram, and Arrow lofts.

Communitech, D2L, and dozens of other companies call the Lang Tannery home.

Former BlackBerry buildings along Phillip and Columbia streets are now homes to companies including Auvik NetworksMagnet Forensics, HockeyTech, Axonify, and Canada’s first virtual reality arcade, CTRL-V.

Last week, I attended the grand opening of the next great transformation on Phillip Street, Factory Square.

Located at 451 Phillip St., Factory Square occupies what was once the manufacturing building for smartphone pioneer BlackBerry. In a past life, I used to go to the building to pick up beta devices — an arduous task that involved going through airport-level security.

The re-invigoration of the buildings into offices has been welcomed; but the Uptown Waterloo and downtown Kitchener cores have had an edge when it comes to a vibrant retail and restaurant scene.

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“BlackBerry’s growth was great for the area, but that growth wiped out some great businesses there,” said Karl Innanen, Managing Director with Colliers International. Innanen mentioned a restaurant called “Fast Breaks” at 180 Columbia St. that moved out to make room for more office space.

“When you lose those businesses, the area becomes just a place to go work,” Innanen said. “With Factory Square, we want to bring back those amenities to make it a great community.”

Factory Square is 215,000 square feet of renovated office and retail space. Property owners Spear Street Capital have spent the last year converting what was once a sterile manufacturing area into what will be a vibrant community hub.

Today, two new welcoming entrances greet you. The first is located off Phillip Street; the second faces the future ION light-rail stop for the David Johnston Research + Technology Park.

Inside, you’ll find a courtyard the size of three basketball courts, a rooftop patio, and shared meeting spaces. Unlike office towers, Factory Square’s one-storey structure allows for a more communal feel.

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The first two tenants of Factory Square aren’t tech companies. Downtown Kitchener’s own Matter of Taste coffee bar, and PURE Juice Bar + Kitchen, will be the first to occupy the space. “What excites us most about the Factory Square space is the vision not only for the building, but for the whole neighbourhood to develop into an forward thinking community” said Dawn Tran, co-owner of Matter of Taste.

In seeking tenants, the owners weren’t looking for corporate chains, Innanen said. “We know people are looking for something authentic, and both Matter of Taste and PURE are unique offerings and great at what they do.”

It’s not just the companies along Phillip and Columbia streets that will benefit from Factory Square. On the other side of the LRT tracks sit the homes of TextNow, the Accelerator Centre, and the Waterloo office of engineering consultants Stantec.

“This is the foundational block to bring life back to the area. It adds reasons to stay and enjoy” Innanen said.

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While I’m doing whatever snow does in summer, I see and hear that . . . Toronto-based The Holy Gasp plays The Boathouse (57 Jubilee Dr., Kitchener) on Thursday, July 7 at 9 p.m. Midtown favourites The Short Films are opening . . . Also on Thursday, Tame The Lane III takes place along Halls Lane at Charles and Ontario streets, downtown Kitchener, 5 – 9p.m. Brought to you by the fine folks at Perimeter Development Corporation, Tame The Lane features food for purchase from TWH Social, craft beer from Elora Brewing Co., Block Three, Innocente and TWB Brewery, along with live music and entertainment . . . Cruising on King returns Friday, July 8 and Saturday, July 9 to Downtown Kitchener. There’s a classic car show and parade featuring 300 cars, live music, food trucks, and sponsor exhibits.

 

About The Author

Alex Kinsella
Digital Community Manager

Alex Kinsella is Communitech's Digital Community Manager. Part of the tech scene in Waterloo Region since 2004, Alex has worked at GBG, BlackBerry, and Thalmic Labs.