Science centre part of proposed Waterloo condo development

A new development at the corner of King and Bridgeport streets in uptown Waterloo is proposing two condo towers and a new science centre.

HIP Developments seeking approval for 46-metre-tall condo towers in uptown Waterloo

HIP Developments president Scott Higgins stands with Tobi Day-Hamilton of the new group Launch Waterloo at the corner of Bridgeport and King streets in uptown Waterloo. The old post office behind them will be developed into condo towers, but the first five floors of the building will be a science centre created in partnership with Launch Waterloo. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

A new development at the corner of King and Bridgeport in uptown Waterloo will include space for a science centre.

The building at 70 King St. N., where a former post office currently stands, will include two condo towers as well as five floors for a centre by the new group Launch Waterloo. That group is dedicated to STEAM (science, technology, engineering arts and math) programs in Waterloo region.

"The arts part is really important. We have some great STEM education institutions, we have great outreach programs here in Waterloo region, and they all do wonderful work, but we need to incorporate more of the A," said Tobi Day-Hamilton, co-founder of Launch Waterloo.

'We really need our arena of creativity'

The group behind the project thought it would take a decade or more for a centre to become a reality. Then Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky introduced them to Scott Higgins of HIP Developments.

Higgins said he knew he wanted to do something special on the land, because it's a gateway point into uptown Waterloo.

It was during a family trip to Vancouver and a visit to the science centre there that he realized what he wanted for the space. He said we're quick to build arenas and sports facilities for young athletes, but there often aren't spaces for students interested in STEAM activities.

"We really need our arena of creativity. We need a place where our kids can go and have fun and aspire to be, and to build that creative culture," he said.

The property at 70 King St. N., in uptown Waterloo is a former Canada Post outlet. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Official plan amendment needed

The proposed building does need to get city approval before moving ahead, and one aspect of the buildings that councillors will need to consider is their height.

The city's official plan states there's a maximum height of 16 metres along King Street in uptown. This building would be just under 46 metres tall.

When asked if having Launch Waterloo in the new development was a way to make the project more palatable to people who might have concerns about the height of the condo towers, Higgins said no. Instead, he said the city and region need to do more projects like this.

"We're transitioning from a town to a city and I think it's important to do those scaled projects," he said.

"It happens to be in a section of uptown that doesn't have that height right now, but we're going to do something very special architecturally that would rival any community in the world and I think as the innovative capital of Canada, the creative capital Canada, we need to stand up and do those things from a real estate point of view."

Scott Higgins of HIP Developments says the location isn't a typical site for them and they want to do "something very special architecturally" at the corner of King and Bridgeport in uptown Waterloo because this is a gateway into the core. (Image provided)

'This city is changing'

Waterloo Coun. Melissa Durrell has heard from people who are excited about the proposal as well as from those who have concerns.

There are people who want to live in uptown and tell her there needs to be more housing. Then there are people who argue they like the small-town feel uptown has and they don't want to see it change.

"This city is changing and it's really exciting and I think, for the most part, what I'm hearing from people is they — we all — want this," she said.

Standing in front of the old post office, Durrell notes the building has been vacant for years.

"This is not the kind of corner we want to have in uptown Waterloo," she said.

"Whatever happens on this corner, because it is such an important corner, we want it to be inviting. We want — when people walk by, they either want to go in or they can see things that are happening."

290 new units

Residents might also want to get used to the idea of taller buildings going into core areas, said Ryan Mounsey, a senior economic development advisor with the City of Waterloo.

"The projects have been getting larger in the Region of Waterloo and that's partly because of growth management," he said.

"So we should get comfortable with bigger city projects in the uptown and in other urban areas. The scale of the project certainly fits in with that model."

He noted the proposed development at 70 King St. N. would have 290 units. Over the next few years, uptown Waterloo is expected to add about 3,000 new units.

It is estimated that those extra 600 people could bring in more than $1.4 million in tax revenue.

Ryan Mounsey, a senior economic development adviser with the City of Waterloo, says this kind of development is similar to other larger projects happening in the region. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Using land wisely

On top of that, Mounawy said it fits a growing trend: millennials, who will make up half of the workforce by 2020, want to live and work in the same area. 

It also fits with the province's mandate for cities to stop sprawling and build up, he said.

"Waterloo has very limited land left, so this is about using the land very wisely," Mounsey added.

The proposed development is expected to go before city council in June. If approved, Higgins said they hope to begin work in the spring of 2019.

For Day-Hamilton, who lives near uptown, she said the building will just be another reason for families to make their way to the core.

"As the uptown builds up again, we need things to bring people uptown," she said.

Durrell agreed.

"We need something in the heart of this city that's going to draw people in and not just be about work or living," she said.