Innovation Centre on track, officials say

Transforming a 75-year-old former city maintenance facility into a state-of-the-art hub of innovation is a mammoth task that doesn’t come without its hiccups.

But all things considered, the people in charge of making sure the new Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards meets its mid-November opening target couldn’t be happier with the way the project has progressed.

"We’re feeling very positive about the stage that we're at right now," says Windmill Development Group founding partner Jeff Westeinde, who co-chairs the facility’s board of directors with former Nordion CEO Steve West.

The $30-million makeover is on time and on budget, he says, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been a few headaches along the way.

A floor in the facility’s incubation wing had to be completely rebuilt because of structural integrity issues, and some floors and ceilings needed additional fireproofing. Water, sewer and electrical systems also needed to be overhauled throughout much of the structure, which was built in 1941.

"All of the usual pressures that you get on this type of a project," Mr. Westeinde says, sounding every bit the veteran property developer.

He praises the job that local contractors Morley Hoppner and architect Barry Hobin’s firm have done in redesigning and rebuilding the site. Still, he knows plenty of critics are questioning whether the facility will really help boost innovation or nurture the next Shopify.

Mr. Westeinde understands the skepticism, but he doesn’t buy it.

"Place matters," he says. "Anybody knows that certain places make you feel certain ways. If you’re in a 1950s vintage, 20,000-square-foot government building with cubicles versus the headquarters of Shopify, that vibe has a very different impact on human beings. Creating a place that was specially designed to create these (collaborations), that, to me, is invaluable."

David Ritonja, co-chair of the building’s anchor tenant, Invest Ottawa, agrees.

"The thing that this gives is a common focal point, a meeting point, where you can actually start enabling some things," he says.

"It’s a neutral place in the city to facilitate innovation. If you want people from an innovation mindset to stay here, they want to see that the ecosystem is there to support them. When you look around the world, tell me leading cities that don’t have innovation hubs. It’s part of a wider ecosystem.”