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Strategic Group finds opportunity in empty offices

Where some see an old empty office, Strategic Group sees opportunity.

Cities like Calgary have seen office building vacancy rates as high as 27 per cent in the past few years. Rather than let downtown buildings go unused, developer Strategic Group has been converting them into housing.

“It is definitely a challenging process and takes a lot of planning up front,” explained Ken Toews, senior vice president of development at Strategic.

The process begins by finding a building that is empty or will soon be empty. Then the team must determine if its floor plate will accommodate resident units. Most won’t, noted Toews.

“They are usually too big, or the distances are from the core of the building to the glazing is too long,” he said. “Usually it takes a lot of creative thought to make it work. It takes a lot of time to make the suite layouts work. We could spend three or four months just doing that because if your suite layouts don’t work, you just can’t go forward with the project.”

Once that layouts are completed, the team determines what condition remaining components are in like glazing or structural pieces.

“The mechanical and electrical have pretty well come out of it so you don’t really have to worry about that, but you try to save what you can. Once that is done, you can do a full financial analysis,” Toews said.

The project must also work its way through the city approval process, which has been without issue in Calgary for Strategic. Toews noted city officials have bent over backwards to help make the company’s innovative repurposing projects work.

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Above photo: render of Barron Building as an 11-storey residential building.