New online marketplace set to give Edmonton's vacant properties new lease on life

An online marketplace connecting people to empty office and retail spaces, is officially ready to occupy Edmonton’s growing number of vacant properties.

The 'space matchmaking' service will launch in Edmonton in new year

The founders of Thisopenspace say the online marketplace will help fill some of Edmonton's commercial vacancies. (lumensborealis)

An online marketplace that connects people to empty office and retail spaces will soon try to help refill some of Edmonton's vacant properties.

Thisopenspace, which operates in the same way as the vacation rental website Airbnb, matches landlords with people looking for short-term commercial spaces.

Available spaces include office buildings, art galleries, studios and storefronts. Spaces can be rented by the day or the hour.

The business got started in 2013 when the site co-founders couldn't find a short-term space in Vancouver for their homemade hummus company. They soon realized there was a dire need among creative types in the city.

The Vancouver-based service, which already operates in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and New York City, will expand to Edmonton in the new year.

With a public seal of approval from the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, local listings on the site are set to launch in January 2018.

'It's a catalyst'

The "space matchmaking" service will help combat commercial vacancy rates, said Gillian Wilson, business and development manager for the EEDC.

"Thisopenspace, this solution isn't the only piece that's going to solve or address the vacancy in Edmonton but it's a catalyst," Wilson said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"What it offers is, it connects people with a space and takes care of the back-end red tape to make it very easy and accessible for people to use it."
Thisopenspace listings will include studios, storefronts and vacant office spaces. (Thisopenspace)

Edmonton's office spaces have been emptying out since the economic downturn. According to a report by Avison Young, the third-quarter downtown office vacancy rate was 17.2 per cent, up from 13.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2016.

Vacancies have grown for more than two years and could reach 30 per cent by 2020, the EEDC projects.

The development group has been in talks to bring the service to Edmonton since July, when they officially recommended the move to Edmonton city council.

"Edmonton's industry structure is changing, where traditional energy service-based businesses will not be the growth engine of the economy," said the report.

Reaching a "healthy" 10 per cent overall vacancy rate will take more than 15 years, the EEDC report projected.

"We had put together a report that we presented to city council, there were four recommendations in that report and this was one of them," said Wilson.

"City council within Edmonton understands that we need to address the vacancy rates within Edmonton, and they know that this is a tool to do that." 

'We help to solve vacancies'

Providing more flexibility in rental options will help alleviate Edmonton's vacancy problem, said Adam Bent, co-founder of Thisopenspace.

The site provides an easy and secure way to monetize space during vacant periods, offsetting the costs of property upkeep.

Most commercial leases are between five and 10 years, said Bent, but most tenants don't want to be locked in.

Rentals on his site are often used by small start-ups that are just moving from online sales to their first brick-and-mortar operations, Bent said. The site is also popular for pop-up shops and special events that don't want to make a long-term commitment.

"On the real estate side, we work with brokers, landlords and small business owners, things like art galleries and cafes that can open their spaces," Bent said.

"We help to solve vacancies. We drive different brands, creatives and start-ups into these vacant spaces on a shorter term basis than a traditional lease."

Thisopenspace will hold a launch celebration on Tuesday afternoon inside Holland Plaza, the site of the former Duchess Provisions shop. The storefront will be the first space to be listed for rent on the site.

Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @EdmAMCBC