Local businesses beef up their office space

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: STEPHANIE LAI
Patrick John Ambrogio (left), Slavko Prtenjaca (right), Shawn Adamsson (centre)

Two local high-tech companies are making a historic move, and it all started with a tweet.

On April 9, Shawn Adamsson, an owner of digital design company rtraction, tweeted: “We've started to look at new office space. To say that we're looking at nontraditional space would be a bit of an understatement.”

As luck would have it, commercial real estate company CB Richard Ellis is located in the same Dufferin Street office building as rtraction. A representative came over to show Adamsson three properties, one of which was the old Great West Beef steakhouse on Horton Street.

Though Adamsson initially shrugged off the suggestion, the representative from CBRE insisted he come check out the building. “We came down and fell in love,” Adamsson remembered.

The yellow-brick Great West Beef steakhouse has sat empty for the past six years, but the building has a ton of history behind it. Originally constructed in 1886, it is the last standing roundhouse — locomotive maintenance and repair shed — of the four that were located in this area.

Adamsson and the London Heritage Council are still filling in the gaps of the building's history. So far they have learned that it was first owned by the Michigan Central Roundhouse, who would sublet the space to other railways. The building was primarily used by the London and Port Stanley Railway. After that, it housed a refuse collection service and, later, a fruit company. As the Great West Beef steakhouse in the 1980s, '90s and early 2000s, it was one of the most popular restaurants in the city.

Now, with building owners Creative Property Developments and their sister company Creative Property Design Build Inc., the space will be revived. As a steakhouse, the building featured a false ceiling, raised floors and platforms throughout the space, making it only eight feet in height in some spots. “The outside of the building didn't match the inside,” said Patrick John Ambrogio, vice-president of Creative Property Developments. “We looked at the outside of the building and said, ‘Where did that go?'”

After some investigation, he and company president Slavko Prtenjaca discovered the ceilings were much higher and the floors were much lower than they appeared. Once it is taken back down to its bare bones, the space will be between 21 and 26 feet in height.

The building will then be transformed with “a steel and glass box in the middle of the space,” according to Adamsson. Creative Property Design Build Inc. will strive to use local tradespeople for the project as much as possible.

Rtraction will be sharing the refreshed space with ATMOS Marketing, a company they've worked with in the past. “We complement one another,” Adamsson said. “It will be a good, symbiotic relationship.”

Rtraction has been located in a 3,500 square foot space in an office building for about 12 years. “The drywall and carpet thing, it's not a creative environment. This,” Adamsson said, gesturing to the space, “is a creative environment.”

Adamsson is hoping to see the renovations completed in the first quarter of 2014.

Rtraction team members are excited about the move. “We're looking forward to being near a neighbourhood,” Adamsson said. “What we're hoping to do is open the space to them off-hours. This can be not only an office but a community hub.”

The area south of Horton Street — also known as SoHo — has seen a few rough years, Adamsson said. “In the last two to three years, with the help of guys like Patrick — good, solid developers in the area with a vision for the future — it's bouncing back. I think it's time for organizations like us and ATMOS and others to start investing in the area and turn it into something that's vibrant moving forward.”

Adamsson is documenting the building's journey on the London Roundhouse Project blog. “It's to meld the past with the future, and to restore this beautiful building back as close as we can get it to where it started, and really, really respect the heritage that's involved here.”

Check out londonroundhouse.com to read more about the history of the building and to follow along with the renovations.