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The labs and offices of Nortel's Ottawa campus once housed 15,000 employees. Now only a fraction of the space is occupied. ((Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC))

A sprawling complex that once housed 15,000 Ottawa technology workers has been largely emptied by Nortel Networks' demise, fuelling dreams about what the building could become.

Tyler Chamberlin, a professor at the University of Ottawa's Telfer School of Management, thinks it should be converted into an incubator for the local technology sector.

The business innovation researcher envisions it as a place where startups would be provided with space and resources such as mentorship, through a partnership involving all three levels of government. He has already brought up his idea with City of Ottawa economic development officials.

"If we want to see Ottawa continue to be a vibrant and prosperous city, then it really does require the different leaders … to come together and say, 'Let's do something. Let's make investments into Ottawa to see that the future can be as bright as the past,'" he said.

The city confirmed it has heard the suggestion, but hasn't explored the idea yet.

Nortel still owns the huge building at Carling Avenue and Moodie Drive, but it is expected to be sold shortly, along with the company's other remaining assets.

Sign replaced

The company's sign was taken down last week.

The campus has been renamed "Carling Place" and its new sign bears the names of three companies that bought pieces of the dwindling former tech giant — Ciena, Ericsson and Avaya. Together, they have fewer than 4,000 employees in the former Nortel building, occupying three of the 10 laboratories and a fraction of the available space.

Not everyone favours Chamberlin's idea of getting the government involved in filling the remaining labs and offices.

Doug Reid, who teaches strategy at Queen's University School of Business in Kingston, Ont., said he thinks that would probably "make things just a shade more complex than need be."

The land surrounding Nortel's building is owned by the National Capital Commission, the federal agency that manages Crown lands and buildings in Ottawa-Gatineau. There has been some speculation that the government might buy the building as well.

Nortel made telecommunications equipment and had 90,000 employees around the world at the beginning of 2001. However, it couldn't overcome mounting financial troubles after the dot-com bust and filed for bankruptcy-court protection in January 2009.

Since then, most of the Canadian-based company has been sold off.