Stantec looks to the future with its new tower in downtown Edmonton

The story behind downtown Edmonton’s new Stantec tower isn’t just about the arena, it’s about an Edmonton success story making a bold bet on the future of our city. Stantec is the largest architecture company in Canada, and they build communities all around the world from right here in Edmonton. They’re an important part of both our city’s history and its future.

Keith Shillington

“People know Stantec, but they don’t know Stantec,” Keith Shillington told me over coffee at Credo on 104 Street, just a few blocks from where the new tower will rise. “This is an opportunity to tell the story.”

From Dr. Stanley to Stantec

Stantec began life in 1954 as Stanley Associates, founded by Dr. Don Stanley. The company grew very successfully until the National Energy Program in 1983 hit the firm hard, forcing major layoffs. But they weathered that storm and rebounded in a big way. By the 1990s, the company’s various assets were brought under the umbrella of Stanley Technology Group, and in 1994 the company went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange. In 1998, Tony Franceshini became President and CEO and he launched the Stantec brand. He also articulated a goal for the company: to become a billion-dollar company by 2008. He retired that year having achieved his goal.

Today the company has about 14,000 staff working in more than 230 locations all around the world. The company is listed on both the TSX and NYSE and boasted revenue of more than $1.8 billion in 2013. And under current President & CEO Bob Gomes, Stantec has a new goal: to be a top 10 global design firm. His message on the website recognizes the firm’s rich history and its bright future:

“We take pride in a long history of being part of the communities we serve. We started in 1954 as a one-person firm founded in Edmonton by Dr. Don Stanley. Today we are a public company with a diverse portfolio of clients across many sectors and geographies, both in North America and internationally.”

You can learn much more about the evolution of Stantec on their website.

The search for a new home

Last year, Stantec began the search for a new home in Edmonton. The company currently has about 1,700 local employees spread across four different offices: Stantec Centre at 10160 112 Street, the Devonian office at 11160 Jasper Avenue, the Scotia Place office at 10060 Jasper Avenue, and the Bell Tower office at 10120 103 Avenue. Leases on all of those spaces come due by 2019, making it the ideal time to start thinking about consolidation.

Stantec Centre

The requirements Stantec outlined were vague. At least 300,000 square feet of space, good transit and transportation links, and good amenities. The location was not specified, with the company open to either downtown or suburban proposals, a position that led to great alarm among downtown supporters at the thought of losing one of our city’s major employers.

Keith led the team that undertook the search and ultimately selected the tower that was unveiled yesterday. He’s a Senior Vice President at Stantec, and in company parlance, Keith is a Geographic Leader of the Canadian Prairies and Regional Leader of Alberta North. He’s an Edmontonian, and a proud one.

“Imagine the statement it would have made if we had gone to the suburbs,” he said, saying that while the company stayed open to all possibilities throughout the search, their “hearts were downtown.” In all, Stantec looked at 15 proposals for a new space, 9 of which were located in the downtown area. “They really blew us away,” he said, noting the decision was not easy. “It was fun as an Edmontonian to see the possibilities.”

An iconic building?

When Stantec announced that the search for a new space was beginning, Keith spoke to the Journal about the company’s requirements. At the time, he made a surprising comment about the design of the new building:

“Again, it’s going to depend on what comes back and what developers are prepared to do to meet our needs, but to be honest, are we looking for the iconic ‘wow'”? he asked. “That’s actually not Stantec. That’s not our culture.”

He told me the comment caused quite a bit of discussion internally. “Boy did I hear about that from our design folks!” Still, he maintained that being iconic wasn’t the goal. “Iconic was not written into the RFP,” he said. “Height was not as important to us as having the right space for our staff.”

Keith talked a lot about meeting the needs of staff. For three years straight, Stantec has been named one of Alberta’s Top Employers, and it shows. The new building includes enough space not only for the roughly 1,700 current employees, but also includes room for growth. “It shows confidence in our future,” Keith said. They’re not ready to talk about the interiors yet, but there’s no doubt the design will be geared toward ensuring Stantec has a healthy, happy workforce.

Connected to the community

The new building needed to meet the needs of Stantec and its staff of course, but the company also wanted it to have an impact on the community. “It had to have meaning,” Keith told me. “It couldn’t be just another building.”

I asked him to elaborate on that in the context of Stantec’s culture. “Connected,” is the word he used. “Our connection with the community is strongest when we’re downtown.” He pointed to the existing office on 112 Street as an example. “It’s about the street,” he said, noting the company has programmed 112 Street for all sorts of events for staff. They’ve hosted extremely popular food truck gatherings, for instance. That connection to the street is one of the things that attracted Stantec to the arena district. “The plaza allows us to continue that tradition,” he said.

Stantec Tower

Another interesting aspect of the new tower is the residential component, which will fill the top 33 floors. “It wasn’t originally in the plan,” Keith told me, “but we were open to the possibilities.” It’s another way for Stantec to be connected with the community they’re located in. They’ve done something similar with their new offices in Winnipeg (which features a hotel instead of residential units).

The downtown advantage

Stantec is a major supporter of downtown already, with its existing offices and through its people. For instance, both Keith and Stantec VP Simon O’Byrne are members of the Downtown Vibrancy Task Force. But the company knew a tower provided an opportunity to do more.

Keith said there were many reasons that being downtown made sense for Stantec. “LRT was a big factor,” Keith said, and admitted it was why some of the other downtown proposals were ultimately ruled out. Being located close to multiple LRT connections was just too appealing. “Cycling routes are also very important,” he said.

Many of the firm’s clients are located downtown and many staff already live there. “Over 50% of our staff are under the age of 35,” he said, noting that increasingly they want to live in the middle of the action. He said being downtown was “a big factor” in thinking about retaining and attracting staff. The trend in cities like Toronto has been for companies to move their offices back into the core from the suburbs, specifically to better tap into the large pool of young, highly educated workers that want to live centrally.

Then of course, there’s the arena district. With the new City of Edmonton tower, a rumored hotel, the arena itself, and potentially more announcements on the way, it’s shaping up to be an exciting area for years to come. If we can pay for it, that is. Keith and the team at Stantec knew they could have a major positive impact by building their tower within the boundary of the CRL, which is a key part of the financing for the arena. “It’s another way for us to support downtown,” he said.

A lasting impact on Edmonton

There’s no question the new building will have a visible impact on Edmonton, dramatically altering the skyline for years to come. But Keith wants the building to change more than just the skyline. “I hope we can inspire others to do more,” he said. “We need to seize the opportunities in front of us.”

“We love what’s going on here in Edmonton, and we want to be part of it.”

Edmonton will officially join the skyscraper club with Stantec’s new tower

Stantec today unveiled their new headquarters, a 62-storey tower that will be built on the corner of 102 Street and 103 Avenue right in the heart of the Edmonton Arena District. Along with the Katz Group, WAM Development Group, and City of Edmonton, Stantec shared details on the new building which will be the tallest in Edmonton and one of the tallest in western Canada.

Stantec Tower

As expected, the new building will open directly into the public plaza in the Edmonton Arena District, and is being considered the “anchor” project. Construction on the $500 million project will begin this fall, with the new building slated to open in the summer of 2018.

It was back in June that City Council officially removed the Airport Protection Overlay, clearing the way for buildings higher than 150 meters to be possible. That height is significant. A building is generally considered a “high-rise” until it reaches 150m, at which point it becomes a skyscraper, at least according to most definitions. As of April 2013, there were 90 such buildings in Canada: Toronto has 56, Calgary has 16, Montreal has 9, Vancouver has 4, Mississauga has 2, and Niagara Falls and Burnaby each have 1. With the new Stantec tower, Edmonton will officially become a member of the skyscraper club!

Stantec Tower

The new tower will rise to 224 meters (or 746 feet), though officials today clarified that it could still rise higher. The design features 26 floors of offices and could accommodate another 2 floors if the market demand makes adding them feasible. The building will also include approximately 320 residential units taking up 33 residential floors. Another 2 floors are mechanical, and the first floor will feature retail.

“This new building will revolutionize the downtown landscape in Edmonton and will set expectations for future buildings in the city,” said Darren Durstling, President and CEO of WAM Development Group. “This tower is being designed, engineered and project managed entirely by Stantec, showcasing their vast capabilities and experience.”

The new building will have a dramatic effect on Edmonton’s skyline when it opens. The current tallest building in the city is EPCOR Tower, which rises to 149 meters (490 feet). Manulife Place, which was the tallest structure in Edmonton for 28 years, rises to 146 meters (480 feet). Down in Calgary, the iconic Bow tower rises to 236 meters (774 feet).

Stantec unveils new tower

Daryl Katz said the new tower will “set the tone for new buildings in Edmonton for years to come.” He called it “an extraordinary addition” to Edmonton’s skyline. Mayor Don Iveson joked, “I’m a tall guy, but I am intimidated by this!” He highlighted the building’s impact on Edmonton, saying it will transform our city’s image across the country. “This is an indication of what the power of investment in our downtown can do,” he said.

Stantec Tower

Stantec is taking about 450,000 square feet of the new building, or approximately 19 floors. They have signed a 15 year lease which of course includes naming rights (the official name is yet to be revealed). Today’s announcement was hosted at Stantec’s head office on 112 Street, one of four local offices that will be consolidated into the new building. Dozens of Stantec staffers were on hand to witness the unveiling.

“We are proud to have both our people and our designer’s work play a role in enhancing the vibrancy of the Edmonton Arena District,” said Bob Gomes, president and CEO of Stantec.

You can see Gomes and WAM President & CEO Darren Durstling literally press a button to reveal the new building with this GIF. Stantec Senior VP Keith Shillington said “our hearts were downtown” while acknowledging the proposal received some stiff competition.

Stantec unveils new tower

I am very excited about this building. Stantec, one of Edmonton’s biggest success stories, is making a significant commitment to the future of our downtown. On top of that, this building is the first major private project in the Edmonton Arena District. During the press conference, Mayor Iveson did some back-of-the-envelope calculations to suggest that if Manulife Place currently contributes about $3 million in annual tax revenue, the new Stantec tower could contribute $4-5 million into the CRL. That’s extremely significant. Just as the Bow tower “paid for” the Rivers CRL in Calgary, the Stantec tower makes the success of the downtown CRL much more likely. And hopefully it’ll allow us to attract even more private investment. For me, the “district” just became real.

Stantec Tower

If you look closely in the renderings, you’ll see a building directly to the north that features the word “hotel” across the top. I understand that the next big announcement for the Edmonton Arena District will include details on the hotel. It’s a very exciting time for downtown Edmonton!

You can see more photos from today’s announcement here.

Downtown Edmonton’s momentum continues with exciting announcements

What an exciting time for downtown Edmonton! We’re in the height of festival season, with the annual K-Days Parade and Taste of Edmonton both bringing thousands of Edmontonians into the core, and we seem to be in the height of announcement season too. Here’s a look at some of the encouraging downtown-related news that has made headlines over the last week or so:

Jasper House & North on 106 Street

Toronto-based developer Brad Lamb has announced two new condo projects in Edmonton called Jasper House and North. Located on 106 Street at 102 Avenue, the 36-storey Jasper House will get rid of another empty parking lot downtown. Sales are expected to begin this fall, with construction starting next year.

Jasper House

If all goes well with Jasper House, Lamb would undertake North, a 40-storey tower that would be located on 105 Street at 103 Avenue. Together, the two buildings represent about $260 million of investment.

You can register to receive updates on Jasper House here. No website exists yet for the North project.

More: Edmonton Journal, Metro Edmonton

Stantec Headquarters in the Edmonton Arena District

This morning, Stantec announced that their search for a new headquarters has come to an end with the signing of a lease agreement for a brand new building inside the Edmonton Arena District:

“This agreement represents our commitment to the community of Edmonton and the downtown redevelopment,” said Bob Gomes, president and CEO of Stantec. “Our decision is the result of an intensive selection process over the last year, and we are looking forward to moving ahead with design and construction.”

The new building will allow Stantec to consolidate its five current Edmonton locations into one. As the news release says, it’s “a true commitment to the city’s downtown.” The company has about 1,500 employees in Edmonton. Their existing leases are all up by 2019. Back in May, Stantec indicated they had narrowed their search for a new home to downtown.

Proponents of the downtown arena deal will no doubt hail this as a major victory, while critics will point out that we’re simply moving around offices that already existed in Edmonton. I think it’s an encouraging sign for the arena district, and I hope Stantec’s decision will help to attract outside investment as the district evolves. We still aren’t seeing the promised dominoes falling, but at least this is a very encouraging step in the right direction. The Katz Group’s Bob Black said to expect further announcements related to the district, so let’s hope this is a sign of things to come!

The specific location within the EAD site hasn’t been announced, but there’s speculation it could be where the Greyhound Station exists today. Preliminary design work for the new building is underway, and Stantec anticipates sharing more information at a press conference in late August.

More: Edmonton Journal, Metro Edmonton

Alley of Light Pocket Park Redevelopment

Michael Phair has shared an exciting update on the Alley of Light project! The initiative has long wanted to redevelop the pocket park behind the Sobeys building adjacent to Icon I, and it looks like that will finally be happening.

“The City of Edmonton has awarded a contract to Paving Stone Plus and construction will likely begin in the week of July 28-August 1.”

The work involves new paving and stone work, new power distribution, security lighting, and LED bollards, new retaining walls, chairs and tables to seat 64, and landscaping.

Alley of Light Pocket Park

Downtown certainly could use more functional, attractive park space, so this is great to see. Kudos to Michael Phair and the entire Edmonton on the Edge team for persevering! Hopefully Scott Park on 105 Street and 102 Avenue will be moving ahead soon too.

Calgary’s Mainstreet Equity sees downtown opportunity

It’s not clear exactly where in the Edmonton Arena District that Calgarian landlord Bob Dhillon is consolidating land, but a recent article in the Journal highlighted his interest in Edmonton’s rapidly improving downtown:

“While many Calgarians look on with envy as the Edmonton Oilers plan a magnificent new building to play in, landlord Bob Dhillon sees only the opportunity.”

Mainstreet’s Edmonton portfolio currently consists of 3,683 units at 119 sites, according to the article. It’s great to see interest in the Edmonton market from a Calgary-based business!

Downtown Perception Survey

For all of these reasons and more, perceptions about downtown are changing. The Downtown Business Association is hoping to learn more about the opinions that Edmontonians have of downtown and is running an online survey. Preliminary results show that more than half of respondents say their opinion of downtown has become “more favorable” over the last year. The full results will be released on August 27.

Sign of things to come?

All of these new projects will join existing ones already underway, including the Fox Towers, Ultima, Kelly Ramsey Building, Symphony, new Royal Alberta Museum, and many others.

Kelly Ramsey Building Construction

This is what happens when thousands of people start living in the downtown area. Demand, demand, demand. The next few years are going to be extremely exciting!

Recap: 2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon

I was once again fortunate to attend EEDC’s Annual Luncheon, which took place yesterday at the Shaw Conference Centre. After 16 years, the luncheon has become a popular fixture downtown, and it showed yesterday with an absolutely packed Hall D. EEDC uses the event to highlight the work it is doing to help make Edmonton one of the world’s top five mid-sized cities by 2030, and also to honor local businesses making a difference with the EEDC Awards of Excellence. I enjoyed last year’s luncheon, but aside from the length, I thought this year’s was better. The production quality was much improved, with some great looking graphics and videos displayed on the giant screens. EEDC’s own Brent Beatty did an excellent job as the event’s emcee.

This year I was asked by EEDC if I would spend some time with Andrea Wahbe, a journalist visiting from Toronto to learn more about Edmonton’s tech scene. I readily agreed, and enjoyed sharing my take on Edmonton with her. Our conversation naturally touched on more than just technology, so hopefully I was able to provide some useful context. Andrea was only here a short time but she seemed to enjoy downtown, and got to make stops at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Transcend Jasper, and the Edmonton Research Park before heading home.

2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon

The winners of the 2011 EEDC Awards of Excellence are:

From the press release:

“We have some of the best organizations in the country right here in Greater Edmonton that represent and reflect our corporate priority areas: leadership, innovation and recognition. It is an honour to acknowledge and recognize Stantec, Cleankeys and Master Flo Valve for the significant contribution to our community. They engage the community and act as a catalyst for change, while fostering innovation and increasing Edmonton’s visibility on a global level.”

The special mention award went to Hot To Huddle this year, for their work on the Grey Cup 2010 festival. EEDC Board Member Chris LaBossiere handed out the awards.

Ron Gilbertson, EEDC’s President and CEO, and Henry Yip, EEDC Board Chair, were both on hand to give remarks. Henry focused on recognizing the hard work that everyone at EEDC has done, and introduced the board. Ron spent his time discussing the economic situation here in Edmonton, though a little less formally than he did last year. The impending labour shortage was the hot topic, and Ron noted that our unemployment rate is about 5.8%, which is down from 7.3% just a year ago. “The days of Edmonton being a low-cost labour centre are gone,” he said.

One of the interesting things that EEDC did this year was text voting. Everyone in attendance was encouraged to answer three questions about Edmonton’s competitiveness via text message (they used Poll Everywhere). Unfortunately the event was running behind schedule so they only quickly flashed the results up on screen.

2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon

2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon2011 EEDC Annual Luncheon

Most people felt that Edmonton is “wandering” when it comes to competitiveness, we have strengths in some areas but not others, and we lack clear focus. The most critical issue affecting Edmonton’s future competitiveness was “labour supply”, with “investment in innovation” and “transportation and infrastructure” close behind. And finally, the vast majority of respondents said they have a plan to enhance competitiveness at their own companies.

The keynote speaker this year was Deborah L. Wince-Smith, President of the Council on Competitiveness (among other things). She spent her time talking about the revolution we’re experiencing in innovation. She cited things like Google, Facebook, and the iPad, but also talked about nanotechnology and high performance computing. I liked her catchphrase for the latter – “to outcompete you have to outcompute”. Though Deborah focused mainly on the United States, she did try to apply her comments to Edmonton a few times. She defined innovation as “I to the 5th power”: ideas, imagination, impact, individuals, and investment. I have to say that I felt mixed about Deborah’s keynote. Some of the things she said really resonated, while others (like her multiple comments about Facebook toppling dictatorial regimes) definitely did not. I liked the way she closed however, stating that “Edmonton is an energy hotspot, but the rest is up to you.”

Thanks to EEDC for inviting me to the annual luncheon. You can read the January update on Edmonton’s Economy in PDF here, and be sure to follow @EEDC on Twitter for updates.