PERIMETER DEVELOPMENT: LETTING IN THE LIGHT
BY CHRIS TIESSEN
I never anticipated that I could be inspired by a vacant floor of a drab 1960s office building – originally constructed to house a banking headquarters, no less. And yet here I was. On the top floor of 305 King Street West in downtown Kitchener. A building I’d grown up noticing simply because it was so impressively unexceptional. And I was energized. And excited. And absolutely inspired – all for one simple reason. Because of who I was with. Craig Beattie. Or ‘Craig’, as he’s known by folks across Kitchener-Waterloo. (He has made such an impact in so many circles in these cities that folks around here tend to know exactly who I mean when I mention ‘Craig’. But I digress. Back to 305 King West.)
Craig and I have just arrived by elevator to the twelfth floor, and he’s showing me around the place like he owns it. Because he does. Or, more precisely, the company he helped found – Perimeter Development – owns it. Along with co-founding partner David Gibson and partner Stewart Barclay, Craig and the Perimeter team have been actively looking for projects like 305 King West not only to resuscitate the downtown core but also to continue readying the region for continued growth.
As Craig notes: ‘What our community has been able to do in the tech sector is outstanding. Indeed, the very fact that companies like Google are choosing this region to set up shop speaks to so many of our strengths. What Perimeter has been able to do is make sure that there’s phenomenal space ready for businesses to open shop when they’re ready to make the move here.’
Spaces like the Breithaupt Block, which Perimeter developed (and is continuing to develop) – and where Google made a home. And 345 King West, a planned six-storey LEED Gold Class ‘A’ new build that international law firm Gowling will call home. And 119 King West, an adaptive reuse project that now houses the CBC Kitchener-Waterloo offices, Matter of Taste Coffee, and Perimeter’s own offices. (Offices that Perimeter made their permanent home a few years back as a deliberate signal that they are truly invested in this region.) And The Walper Hotel – a passion project for Perimeter that has seen Craig and his colleagues completely restore the grand old downtown hotel that, as legend has it, not so long ago housed both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General David Johnston on the same night, without either of them knowing the other was going to be there. The Walper is a local treasure. Indeed, everyone should make a point of staying there sometime.
And, of course, 305 King West. Where we’re standing, on the top floor. ‘When we purchased this building back in 2014,’ Craig tells me, ‘it was sixty percent vacant.’ He continues: ‘And it wasn’t hard to see why. Each floor was divvied up into a maze of offices. The drop ceilings were horrific. Needless to say, there was no real joy to the place.’ He motions his arm into the deep space of the twelfth floor, adding: ‘This floor, for instance, was divided up into so many small rooms that hardly any natural light could make its way in – anywhere.’ Not anymore, though. Now the top floor of 305 King West is all natural light. And open spaces. And really high ceilings. ‘The first thing we did was get rid of the drop ceilings,’ remarks Craig. ‘And then we got rid of everything else.’
Or, at least, almost everything else. In a far corner of the vast space, I focus on what looks like something straight out of The Jetsons. ‘Radio booths,’ Craig remarks, following my bewildered gaze, ‘left here by the last tenant. Hopefully we can do something cool with them.’ I don’t doubt it. After all, Perimeter has built its reputation doing cool things with old stuff. On a massive scale.
‘It’s worth noting’ Craig says, ‘that we wouldn’t have been able to move forward with any of our projects, whether adaptive reuse or new build, without a City administration that shares our vision. Since we moved our offices into downtown Kitchener from Toronto, we’ve experienced nothing short of incredible support from all departments at the City.’ He continues: ‘I truly believe that Kitchener- Waterloo is one of the strongest markets of its size in North America – and not by fluke. When builders and developers and City administration decide to work collaboratively together – to meet each other where they are – it makes all the difference in the world.’
By this point, we’ve made our way over to the gorgeous Modernist windows to have a look out over the city below. I squint through the late afternoon sunlight at the world. The cityscape is only barely recognizable to me, given what it looked like when I was growing up here. The Breithaupt Block – all century-old brick and shimmering glass– sits like a beacon in the near distance. Perimeter’s handiwork – with so much help from collaborators CBRE, MartinSimmons Architects, the City of Kitchener, among others. No wonder I find this building inspiring, I think. We’re on top of the world here. Perimeter’s world. Which is a really good thing for this region.