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Inside the Calgary office building that is bucking the 30 per cent vacancy rate

May 22, 2018

It isn’t three minutes into the interview before Aspen Properties’ executive chairman Scott Hutcheson first uses the “m” word.

“What does a millennial want?” he asked.

That was the question his company forced itself to ask — at least in terms of a workspace.

There was no light-bulb moment when they started pondering the question, but the end result is now called The Edison.

It was a nondescript 1980s-era office tower most people failed to notice because the century-old Fairmont Palliser hotel on the opposite side of 9 Avenue tends to draw more attention.

But the inside of The Edison is now getting the attention of millennials who are launching their own businesses.

Hutcheson said the idea behind the building started as an unsuccessful pitch to Benevity — one of Calgary’s most successful tech startups.

“Frankly, we didn’t get them,” he said. “But what pitching to them did was — we got ourselves into a different frame of mind.”

That took him and other members of the team to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where they saw what the latest tech firms were offering their staff.

They then packed those ideas into four per cent of The Edison’s floor space.

Co-working Space? Check. Basketball court? Check. Bike-sharing program? Oh, yes.

“It became evident to us that we should be innovative in new ways,” said Hutcheson. “If the youth in the Valley are allowed to bring their dogs to work, why can’t we have them bring their dogs to work here?”

The Edison is — so far — the only dog-friendly office tower in Calgary. Digital signs in the newly-revamped lobby proclaim it as young workers make their way to the elevators.

Not only is it dog-friendly, but tenants can take their pooch out to the third-floor dog park, complete with Astroturf and fake fire hydrants.

Tys von Gaza, director of software development with Edison tenant Clio, said a dog-friendly office was something they were looking for when they started hunting for space.

“I was asking the commercial real estate agents, ‘Hey, is this building dog-friendly?’ And they all kind of looked at me sideways and a bit funny,” said von Gaza.

He said given Calgary’s vacancy rate — which is pushing 30 per cent in the downtown — some landlords were offering to make an exception on the “no dogs” rule. In the end, Clio decided to set up shop in The Edison.

It’s not just tech companies signing leases. They’ve landed an engineering firm, a marketing company, and venture capital companies.

Two floors of the building are co-working space. Desks are available to rent by the month, and this has been popular with the startup crowd, according to Greg Guatto, president and CEO of Aspen.

Guatto believes that co-working space will make up 10 to 20 per cent of the commercial real estate market in the near future.

He said the millennial generation has different work habits. They are looking for a social space where they can collaborate.

“We’ve had to open the gym 24 hours. There’s companies that want that,” said Guatto.

Hutcheson said the plan is working so far. They’ve filled 60 per cent of the available space, and expect to be at 90 per cent by the end of the year.

“This has changed the way people look at downtown office space,” he said.