Kitchener’s historic Huck Glove factory saved with $100 million redevelopment

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KITCHENER — Zac Zehr sits on the top floor of a new office development on Victoria Street South that presents a way to preserve heritage buildings and support new developments.

GloveBox is a 140,000 square foot office building built around and above the historic Huck Glove Factory at 100 Victoria St. S. The City of Kitchener has allowed Zehr Group to add more units in all three condo towers around the office building in exchange for the preservation and redevelopment of the former factory.

“We are proud of this building,” said Zehr, Vice President of Zehr Group and also Head of Development.

“What is so special about this building is the combination of modern construction and old bricks and beams.”

GloveBox was completed when Ontario Premier Doug Ford sparked an angry backlash from heritage advocates with Bill 23 – Building More Homes Faster Act. It relaxes some of the rules aimed at preserving historic properties.

The city had long wanted to designate the Huck Glove factory as a historic landmark, but the previous owner objected to the designation, and the city backed off. It wasn’t until it was sold for redevelopment that a deal was struck between the developer and the city that saved the heritage building in exchange for more units in the condo towers.

Matt Boland of Edge Architects designed it. The Zehr Group built it in partnership with Toronto’s KingSett Capital.

“Preserving a historic building during construction is always a challenge,” Zehr said.

The wooden posts that supported the four floors of the old factory have been replaced by thick square reinforced concrete columns. The ceilings have been sandblasted to expose the original wood. About 25 centimeters of concrete were poured on each floor. The old windows have been replaced with new ones that retain the heritage look.

The new floors above and adjacent to the factory building are wrapped in tinted glass. On the ground floor, a pedestrian walkway crosses the building from Victoria Street South to Garment Street.

The north wall of the old factory constitutes a wall of the atrium. The new building and the old are connected by glass walkways that overlook the atrium.

“There’s nothing like it, which makes it special,” Zehr said as he stood downstairs and gazed into the atrium.

The development includes approximately 8,000 square feet at street level for retail, dining or personal services.

“This is a modern Triple-A office space,” Zehr said as he stood in a 26,000 square foot room above the old factory. It has lots of windows, an outdoor terrace and an indoor kitchen.

From the upper floors, Zehr can easily see Google’s new building on Breithaupt Street and the former King Center shopping mall where Google leased space from current owner Manulife. It is within walking distance of the Communitech Innovation Center at The Tannery, the future location of a medical technology startup incubator on Joseph Street North, and the central transit station at King and Victoria Streets.

“That’s why we’re seeing population growth. That’s why people want to live here,” Zehr said. “Can you imagine what it will be like when we have an all-day return GO to Toronto?”

Development began in 2017 and Garment Street condos sold out within 30 minutes. A few years later, the pandemic hit, but the Zehr Group persevered and has so far signed three tenants for the GloveBox offices.

Approximately 35% of the space was leased by KPMG, Richardson Wealth and JLL Canada, a national real estate broker.

“Our first flagship office in Kitchener demonstrates our confidence and investment in the Southwestern Ontario market,” said Alan MacKenzie, CEO of JLL Canada.

KPMG was in Waterloo, but was drawn to Kitchener by the sights of its new office at GloveBox.

“The entire KPMG office team at KW is thrilled,” said Steve Power, a managing partner there. “With panoramic views, an abundance of natural light, and being next to everything downtown Kitchener has to offer, we truly felt at home.”

This type of feedback allows Zehr to be optimistic about future demand for high-quality office space.

“It’s a tough time,” Zehr said of office leasing during the pandemic. “I think big companies are still trying to figure out what the future of office space looks like.”

The startup economy that has grown in downtown Kitchener over the past 12 years shows few signs of slowing down, even as some big tech companies such as Shopify, Meta, Twitter and Hootsuite have laid off employees.

“We definitely feel and can feel demand is coming back,” Zehr said. “Working in the office, you build a culture, you build relationships.”

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