Region recognized for Breithaupt Block redevelopment, climate action plan

The Region of Waterloo has been awarded two Sustainable Communities Awards by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. One is for the Breithaupt Block redevelopment project and the other is for its climate action plan.

Federation of Canadian Municipalities to hand out Sustainable Communities Awards next month

Google Canada recently unveiled a new headquarters for its national development team in Kitchener, Ont. in the redeveloped Breithaupt Block. (Sam Allen)

The Breithaupt Block redevelopment project and a climate action plan have earned the Region of Waterloo two awards from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

The FCM announced this week the region will receive two Sustainable Communities Awards at a special event in Ottawa next month.

The Breithaupt Block redevelopment project was recognized as the top brownfields project taken on by a municipality in the country. 

In January 2015, the project was also given a national Brownie Award from the Canadian Urban Institute.

Being recognized for the project shines a light on what can be done in the area for potential investors, Rob Horne the region's commissioner of planning, development and legislative services, told the CBC News Thursday.

"[Investors would] look at the brick and beam building, they'd look at the adaptive reuse and they'd look at the incredible addition in the form of the new Google offices that has been attached to it," he said.

"When you're trying to create more of a tech cluster, as is occurring in downtown Kitchener and already exists in Waterloo, it's very important to show that it can and is being done."

Region has rich, industrial heritage

A brownfield is contaminated land that was previously used for industrial production, like the site of a factory that uses chemicals. The Breithaupt Block was once a rubber manufacturing facility, but has been redeveloped into office space.

Last week, Google opened the new headquarters for its Canadian engineering and development team in a new addition to the building. Horne said it's partnerships like that one that show just how far remediating a brownfield can go.

"We live in a community with a rich, industrial heritage but we also end up with buildings that are vacant or underused. And some of them are quite historic as well, so to see these adaptively reused and for the City of Kitchener, the Region of Waterloo to contribute money towards the remediation and then for a developer to step up with a considerable investment, that really makes the notion of partnership quite real," he said.

'Practical' climate plan

The region's climate action plan - Living Smarter in 2020 - received the energy plan award and Horne said he thinks it was recognized because it offered actual solutions, not just ideas.

The "practical, workable document" has specific plans on how to add $350 million in value to the local economy and way for residents to save more than $20 million in household costs.

He said a large part of the success of the action plan is the people who made it happen - not just regional or city staff, but the people who sit on boards or provide input.

"If we didn't have such a great community to work with, this would never happen. We also have to realize we are dependent on each other for our collective success," Horne said.

"To win not one but two awards and nationally again is really signaling the fact that we have good vision and we have good unity in the community."

Projects make Canada more sustainable

The award recipients show how municipalities can be leaders in environmental protection and climate change in their communities, FCM president Raymond Louie said in a release.

"The benefits of such innovative approaches accrue to neighbouring communities and contribute to making Canada more sustainable," Louie said.

An awards ceremony will take place on Feb. 10 at the FCM's Sustainable Communities Conference. Other award recipients included the City of Edmonton for a brownfields redevelopment grant program, Toronto for a home energy loan program and high-rise retrofit improvement support program and the District of Sechelt, B.C., for a water resource centre project.


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