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Info-Tech turning historic London site into high-tech future
Writer:Norman De Bono

Standing amid history, Joel McLean wants to talk about the future.


The future home of Info-Tech Research Group, the London technology business, is now exposed yellow brick walls, hardwood floors and soaring ceiling supported by beams, all covered in construction dust that betrays its 150-year history.


“This doubles the space we have. . . . We need a new home, one that will grow with us,” said McLean.


Interior demolition done, Info-Tech is about to start work on the massive, 70,000-square-foot development that will connect a series of heritage buildings into one office complex taking up almost an entire city block — and make downtown London look very different.


“Our entire business is about people, we don’t have machines, or a lot of equipment . . . so nice amenities and a place downtown with wide open spaces is important.”


About 45,000 sq. ft. is being renovated and the other 25,000 will see a cleanup, but no major work, he added. He hopes to have it all done early in 2018.


“We are excited to be back downtown, to have all the amenities, the market, great restaurants. It is going to be really nice,” said McLean.


The high-tech campus will take up the west side of Ridout Street between King and York streets; three buildings will be torn down and four others preserved. Buildings at 345, 349 and 351 Ridout will be razed, making way for a cobblestone area in front of the buildings that may be used as a parking lot. One of the buildings will also feature a rooftop garden.


The work will include keeping one ivy-covered wall, a nod to the building’s heritage, he added. He has even dug out the basement, dropping it from 2.4 metres to 4.24 m. In all, there will be three floors of offices.


“These projects always have twists and turns, but it is exciting to have a new place and grow with it,” he said. “We are planning long-term.”


The complex will house Info-Tech’s 250 staff with room to grow that to about 450, since it is hiring 10 to 20 per cent more workers annually. In fact, some workers have been on site the last six months as its current home in a former church at Queens and Adelaide street is full to bursting.


“We are so lucky that Joel has chosen that location downtown. It’s a fantastic development . . . a game-changer,” said Janette MacDonald, chief executive of Downtown London, representing merchants.


She sees this development, and a residential highrise proposed for 40 York St., as altering the fabric of the core’s western edge.


“It will be 450 workers who were not here before, shopping, eating out,” she said. “It is a great renewal.”


As for what McLean decided to take down and preserve, it is all about the condition of the space.


“The ones we are taking down, the walls are leaning, they are not saveable. They would not be very nice,” said McLean. “We have preserved all the beautiful spaces.”


As for the renovation costs, he thinks it will be about $6 million — on top of the $5.5-million cost of buying the buildings — “but it may come in higher,” laughed McLean.


“This is not about real estate, it is about an office,” he added.


Info-Tech Research Group will be housed in what is now 341, 355, 359 Ridout St. and 45 King St. It got the green light from the city after a planning and environment committee meeting in May.


“They have had creative approaches to working through challenges,” associated with renovating a heritage space, said Kyle Gonyou, heritage planner for the city. “They have a fabulous vision, this is their canvas.”


Other recent high-tech reclamation projects include: The Cube, a Talbot Street home for Arcane Digital; The Roundhouse on Horton Street, home to technology businesses including Ellipsis Digital; and the former Aboutown taxi office on Bathurst Street, now home to software developer iConect.


“This shows the strength of the high-tech office space and its impact on heritage,” said Gonyou. “It’s an exciting space.” 


This article was first published by London Free Press