New Life for an Old Space on King and Spadina
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New Life for an Old Space on King and Spadina

Taken over by a tech company, the former Global Village Backpackers building gets a heritage-conscious revamp.

Rendering courtesy of Konrad Group.

Konrad Group, a multi-city technology innovation company, is taking over the iconic historical building at the northwest corner of King and Spadina with BrainStation, a digital-technology education business. Originally opened in 1875 as the Richardson House hotel, the building’s most recent incarnation was as the Global Village Backpackers hostel. Now the iconic hotel reveals a superficial facelift (bye-bye, blue paint!) and an open concept interior.

“By and large, when you look at the property, you can still say it’s a heritage property,” said Geordie Konrad, co-founder of Konrad Group. “I think it’s nice to get the brick stripped back down to the heritage red-and-yellow look.”

Konrad Group, along with the property owners Allied Properties and the Heritage Preservation Board, recruited Reflect Architecture and Maast to come up with a building concept that adheres to the guidelines for the preservation of heritage properties. The renovations have seen all the windows replaced with low-profile black panes, with a glass tower erected as an entranceway on the west side as well as a glass facade on the Spadina Ave. side to replace the wooden one.

“I think they did a great job matching the glass and all black pane beam construction to not in any way conflict with the heritage,” said Konrad of the design.

Konrad Group’s current location is right at the southwest side of King and Spadina, also owned by Allied Properties. When he Konrad Group acquired BrainStation in November 2014, they wanted to find office space somewhere along King West, and in a conversation with Allied Properties realized the space right across the street was available. Allied bought that property back in July 2014, after Global Village Backpackers abruptly closed earlier that year. This is the first time the property won’t be used as a hotel in its 140 years.

The interior of the building is being repurposed as an integrated office space. BrainStation will fill the second, third, and fourth floors with a combination of classrooms, employee offices, and a co-working space. The first floor will house a new cafe called Quantum Coffee, created by Konrad Group as a new concept in coffee culture.

“There’s a recognition in the city for the importance of the technology sector,” said Chris Rickett, Manager of Entrepreneurship Services of Toronto. “It’s one of the largest employers in the city, but more so the importance of the tech startup ecosystem and continuing to encourage innovation and diversity in that sector.”

Rickett is part of a team working on a campaign to promote businesses such as these in the city, as well as the startup culture more generally. The team provides operating grants to a number of preexisting business incubators, and they also work to start new ones, for which a campaign will be rolling out at the end of this year.

“What’s interesting is that our group in the city here is called Economic Development Culture, that’s our division, and the city has always recognized the importance of culture in supporting economic development,” said Rickett. “It’s those unique streetscapes, those unique neighbourhoods that make Toronto appealing, and what differentiates the city.”