City’s tallest office towers proposed for west side

Phoenix DCR is going to Council in August seeking rezoning of the parcel of land known as 801 Albert Street. They are proposing a 34 storey office tower; a 31 storey office tower, and a 7 storey office tower. Currently, the tallest office buildings in Ottawa are Place de Ville at 29 stories and Place Bell, both in the downtown core.

The parcel of land they propose to build these on is right across Albert Street from the existing Bayview transit station and the adjacent OTrain station. The triangular parcel of land is immediately north of the 8 storey City Centre office tower (the City Centre site has long been OK’d for developments in the 8 to 22 storey range), where City Centre Ave meets Albert. The site is bounded on the west by the OTrain line and new north-south multi-user path (bike path) on which construction begins later this month.

Here is a bird’s-eye view of the triangular site, located immediately south of (ie above) the word Bayview  (station). Our bird is flying somewhere above the Ottawa River, looking south:

The proposed office towers would have about 1.3 million square feet of space. The site is very difficult to develop, being crisscrossed with sewers and water mains. The developer was pushed off by the city back in 2010 when they initially sought rezoning, pending completion of studies about the condition of the infrastructure and the possibility of relocating some of the pipes (one pipe is to be relocated by the developer).

The aerial view below reverts to a more conventional view with north to the top of the picture.

The closest residential housing to the site is immediately east (right), the townhouses of Walnut Court.

Working closely with city planners, Phoenix has managed to insert three buildings between the pipe rights of way. They are well set back from Albert due to a major pipe crossing the site just south of Albert. They used this setback zone to create a forecourt for motorists arriving at the site.

The three buildings would only have 275 parking spaces in the four-level garage, and 22 on the surface, for somewhere around 5 – 6,000 employees. This is truly a transit-oriented development, dependent on the east-west LRT and north-south OTrain for all the employees to arrive. The buildings are designed for single occupancy, ie the Feds, with secure loading zones and mail rooms, etc. Recall that Federal buildings do not, as a rule, include much parking.

Proposed office towers, bird’s-eye view from the north-west, looking south. Albert Street is in the foreground, the City Centre complex is behind these buildings; the OTrain is to the right.

The building relates well to the adjacent streets. Residents and community associations put a lot of work into the CDP regarding this site. We wanted buildings to relate to the Albert Street grade on the north; and the much lower City Centre and O-Train grades on the south and west. This project has the auto court on the Albert level; and major pedestrian and cyclist entrances on the west at O-Train level, with direct access into the new Bayview Station at O-track level. Thus crowds of pedestrians needn’t be crossing Albert at 3pm every day… southbound and westbound travellers will find the shortest route via the ped path at OTrain level; eastbound travellers might go either via the path or cross the street.

The two tallest towers are linked above grade, and at grade by a lobby. The CDP calls for open access through the Phoenix site to the south, so that residents or workers at the (future) City Centre site will also have direct access to Albert and the transit station; although the new emphasis on the O-Train level as a pedestrian spine might reduce that need.

The south side of the building has some surface parking and garage entrances. According to site plans community members saw at a preview last September, the south side is being designed to simulate a street environment, with curbside parking, and the sidewalk along the south side will connect directly from City Centre/Albert intersection through the site to a new ped bridge over the OTrain connecting to the former Wellington right of way into Hintonburg (the bridge that used to be there was removed in 1970) . Phoenix is offering funding for the ped bridge and seems cognizant for making the south side pedestrian friendly and safe.

Most people tend to view the 5.3 acre triangular site as being “in a hole”, but it isn’t really. The problem is that Albert Street rises up on an earthen embankment to its bridge over the OTrain. The service ramp to the City Centre building has a similar slope; and then further south Somerset Street is also raised on a viaduct. But the Phoenix site is at the same elevation as Primrose, Elm, and Spruce Streets, and the City Centre site, and Tom Brown arena, Bayview Yards, and most of LeBreton Flats. I am confident that when / if built up as per this proposal the landscape will look and feel natural.

When the Dalhousie and Hintonburg CA’s, plus representatives from Walnut Court (townhouses immediately east of the site), met the developers last September, there was considerable scepticism that the suggested buildings did look nice but would the final buildings actually look like that? In particular, the innovative second skin of coloured glass panels on the north façade looked expendable should the developer need to cut costs.

In the rezoning application, the proponent wants to “shrink wrap” the buildings as proposed, so the exact saw-tooth south façade and building shapes and locations would be approved but any changes would require council approval (rezoning). Would this include the exterior as shown? We don’t know.

The preview session also raised some concerns about the west façade (no pic available) which is precast concrete punched with windows. The concrete surface was required to meet LEED standards and to reduce solar gain from the western sun.

The CA’s generally approved of the traffic access and signals as suggested. We felt the driveways would work as shown, for the traffic volumes projected. However, the parking needs to be almost all short-term parking, not monthly rentals, since if the garage is full of monthly parkers then day-parkers will flood the neighborhood. And the building, as planned, is only useful for Federal tenancy, since any other use, such as condos or a hotel, would require a lot more parking and more road access than is feasible to provide. We are also concerned that the relationship of the site to Albert Street be urban and not encourage motorists to speed up due to the large scale surroundings.

The ground level of the building has a horizontal “arcade” of white concrete across the front to provide eye-level interest. Personally, I’d like to see that extend out from the northwest corner of the building out to Albert Street, to more fully enclose the courtyard. There will be the usual food court and services inside.

As presently proposed, the building seems isolated and the surroundings bleak. It is certainly not part of any downtown or mainstreet fabric. But then, it wouldn’t fit well on any traditional mainstreet (West Wellington? Preston? Somerset?) due to its size. It is much more like the Tunney’s Pasture buildings, which are towers-in-a-bunny-field adjacent a rapid transit station. There is, however, the possibility of developing a more cohesive and usable high-rise neighborhood when the City Centre site is redeveloped and a pedestrian spine is required to run north-south from Somerset to Bayview Station.

The seven storey building on the east, the most triangular one, is  a meeting centre with conference rooms around some sort of atrium. Or, it could be office space. These are details to be worked out should the developer find a tenant, because this complex won’t be built unless they have a pre-signed tenant for all of the space in at least one tower.

The shadows thrown from these towers will go a long way in the winter. Fortunately, they go north, where there is no existing or proposed residential uses. The late afternoon western sun may throw a shadow onto the adjacent Walnut Court, Primrose, and Elm residential areas (the existing Tunney’s Pasture buildings do that already). Unfortunately, the shadow study doesn’t include late afternoon projections, despite Community Association requests:

 Summary: The site for this development is difficult to design well, and the proposed rezoning is highly dependent on the buildings being exactly as shown, and for a single tenancy office use. The quality of the ped and cyclist access via the western frontage is crucial for the easy movement of the six thousand workers to and from the Bayview Station.

9 thoughts on “City’s tallest office towers proposed for west side

  1. I like your suggestion of projecting the “arcade” out from the building following the street alignment; I agree that this would enclose the courtyard making it feel more comfortable* and slightly mitigate the empty freeway feeling of heading up/down the Albert viaduct.

    *assuming the services aren’t all stuffed in a basement like Place de Ville and 240 Sparks, or tucked up inside like World Exchange, and some actually open up onto this arcade plaza, creating flow from inside to out

  2. With the downsizing of the federal government, I don’t suppose they are likely to find a tennant quickly. But it would be nice if this sort of building could be ready to go when the next time a department wants to move shop.

    1. I think that is the whole idea, to own the land, have zoning and building approvals in the pocket, and then bid on a space tender when the feds ask for proposals. Despite downsizing, the civil service is still huge, old buildings become less desirable, and the economic advantage of consolidating a dept like Health becomes overwhealming.

  3. With 5000 to 6000 occupants, under 300 parking spaces seems inadequate. If the 7 storey bldg. is mostly meeting rooms and conference rooms, doesn’t this imply people coming for meetins from elsewhere? Taking public transit for meetings would not make good use of people’s time during the day, as travelling back and forth from one work place to the meetings and then back to their work places would be time consuming. I know the big thing is for everyone to bike everywhere for everything, but not everyone in the working in the downtown area is a bicyclist.

  4. If the bldg is primarily civil servants, then meetings would be primarily attended by other civil sevants who have taxi chits; although I suspect some would use the LRT. The non-civil sevants would drive, taxi, or transit. And they do have hundreds of (pay) parking spaces available provided we can restrict the onsite parking to short term parking instead of the bldg simply leasing out the spaces monthly, which puts us back into the terribily inefficient use of parking garages downtown by condos.

    1. We could also re-evaluate whether Albert/Scott need to be 4 lanes off-peak, I believe that there could be on-street short term parking from 9-3 pm and 6pm-7am without affecting circulation much… Except maybe dissuading people from accelebrating to 80kph over the viaduct on a daily basis…

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