So the thing that happens when you first walk into a building that has 1.6 million cubic feet of open space – can we pause and say that again? 1.6 million cubic feet of open space – and a ceiling that reaches as far as the outer limits of the atmosphere, is that you look up. Way up.

And as your eyes widen and your jaw drops, it will occur that the place you’re standing in could safely house an airliner. Maybe two airliners. Inevitably, once you pick your jaw up off the ground, you’ll utter the words that David Brisson says many disoriented others have said before you. You’ll ask: “Where the hell am I?”

Where you are is at 41 Ardelt Place in Kitchener, site of the new Lot 42 Global Flex Campus, one of the most extraordinary meeting spaces in North America.

Lot 42 will throw open its oversized doors later this autumn, officially launching a 17-acre, multi-use site destined, surely, to shift the axis of what is possible, not only in Waterloo Region, but on the continent, from an event point of view.

“It’s one of the most interesting spaces I’ve ever come across,” says Kristen Gillett, Communitech’s Director of Events. “It holds such enormous possibility.”

The scale, drama and seemingly limitless potential of Lot 42 is precisely what attracted Gillett as she began hunting for a venue capable of hosting True North Waterloo, a three-day tech extravaganza with global reach slated to take place at the site May 29-31, 2018.

“There isn’t much else like it that I’ve come across. It has such personality.”

Concerts? Yes. Conventions? Of course. Art exhibits? Certainly. A sound stage? A dance studio? A restaurant? A brew pub? A batting cage? Yes, yes and yes. More than 150,000 square feet of event space, in total.

“Its [scale] gives us the the ability to dream big on many different fronts,” says Brisson, Lot 42’s President and CEO. Brisson has a background in marketing and real estate. He has produced big-time sports events and concerts and played a role in bringing another big Waterloo Region project, Catalyst 137, to market. Catalyst 137 is the 475,000-square-foot space under development on Kitchener’s Glasgow Street that will serve as an accelerator for tech companies involved in the Internet of Things.

Lot 42 is designed to be an accelerator for people, a meeting space, offering a size-large stage to showcase size-large ideas.

“There isn’t a site to my knowledge that caters to what we do,” says Brisson. “The world will come to you if you do the right event. Having the ability to capture people’s attention – we have that ability.”

Gillett says that very aim jibes seamlessly with the goals of True North Waterloo – to showcase the region and its tech ecosystem to the world. Ed Catmull, President of Walt Disney Animation Studios and co-founder and President of Pixar Animation Studios, is already confirmed as one of the speakers at True North Waterloo. Others are expected to follow soon. The event is expected to draw more than 2,000 people.

“It’s like they invented the space for us,” Gillett says. “We’re launching our new event as they’re launching their new facility. There’s a real symbiosis.

“It’s creating something new out of something old, just like the [Communitech] Hub. [The building that houses Communitech] was an old tannery, and now it’s the hub of tech in Waterloo Region.”

Indeed, Lot 42’s 40,000-square-foot main building is a deliberate mix of old and new, raw and slick. Giant gantry cranes – one of which is strong enough to lift the Space Shuttle – remain in place, exactly where they’ve been since they were erected in the mid-1950s. The exposed brick, steel walls and original concrete floor of the main space, now painstakingly polished over a period of months, harken back to the site’s industrial beginnings.

The main building got its start in 1955 as the site for Ardelt Industries of Canada, a subsidiary of the giant Krupp industrial conglomerate (now known as thyssenkrupp). Krupp was a major producer of steel and matériel for the German war effort and it’s believed that during the war years Ardelt Industries did the same from its site near Berlin, making self-propelled guns, anti-tank guns, grenade bodies and light aircraft parts.

It’s proprietor, Rudolph Ardelt, was a German industrialist whose family had a long history producing massive steel structures in Germany.

Newspaper stories from the 1950s say that the firm, located in the eastern portion of Germany, was absorbed by the Soviets following the war, so Ardelt relocated manufacturing to West Germany, and later decided to come to Kitchener, intrigued by the amount of manufacturing taking place at the time in Canada. In short order, the company was making 90-foot-long structures for the St. Lawrence Seaway project, 14-foot diameter fans for a uranium mine in northern Ontario, giant sluice gates for the Grand River Conservation Authority, as well as bridges and cranes. Ardelt died in 1956, not long after establishing operations in Canada.

In 1994, with manufacturing in decline, the Ardelt site was purchased by Ron Doyle, its current owner. The asking price was $2 million. Doyle, son of a St. Jacobs foundry owner, is a businessman, developer and philanthropist who was the driving force behind the Hacienda Sarria, a renovated building on Kitchener’s Union Street that is now primarily a wedding venue.

Like the Hacienda site, Lot 42 was a place where Doyle saw potential, character and a future in an older, established structure.

“Ron had the vision,” says Brisson. “He walked in here and he called it an industrial gothic cathedral. Without Ron having that vision in 1994, we’re not here.”

Doyle shuns the limelight and prefers to let his son, Patrick, the project’s managing partner, and Brisson speak for him.

“For Ron, at the end of the industrial era in this community, it was very doom and gloom,” said Brisson. “He walked in here and said, this is going to be something bigger than a steel factory in 25 years.”

For 20-or-more years, portions of the site were rented out to various manufacturers. About 18 months ago, sensing the time was right, Doyle made the decision to embark on its $10-million rebirth.

The intent, says Patrick Doyle, is for Lot 42 to become a venue particularly for people with vision, with creative impulses, people who think beyond the constraints of convention.

“It’s setting the stage for creativity,” Doyle says. “It’s a blank canvas, go wild. People come through [here] and then they call me two days later excited, saying, ‘We can do this?’

“And I say, yes, yes you can.

“‘Hang something from a crane?’

“Yes, please do!”

The building’s entire eastern-most wall – 400 feet wide, 40 feet high – has been retrofitted in giant sheets of thermopane glass. At night, when the lights are on inside, the effect from the street is show-stopping.

“I was coming back from Toronto,” Brisson says. “I drove by, and the lights were on, and I went ‘Whoa! What the heck?

“[And I thought to myself], so that’s what it’s going to look like. It was special to see. I stopped, backed up, and just sat there in my car [staring at it].”

“The roof was glowing. I thought: ‘Wow. We’re building something.’”

The site will host many events, including Oktoberfest, in the weeks between its launch and leading up to next May, when True North Waterloo will take place.

But Brisson says it’s fair to call True North Waterloo the coming-out party for Lot 42.

“Our end goal, following the vision of Ron, is: Do things bigger,” said Brisson. “Do things that haven’t been done in Canada. The True North Waterloo event, I think, truly represent big style. It’s ‘Let’s go and pump our chests a little bit,’ which is so un-Canadian.

“It’s about thinking bigger.”

Adds Gillett:

“There’s so much happening in this region. This is the time to take what we’re doing and showcase it to the world.”

PatDave (1)

Lot 42 Global Flex Campus CEO and President David Brisson, left, and Managing Partner Patrick Doyle. (Photo courtesy of Lot 42)

About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.