The Town of Qualicum Beach will be renovating the old firehall and turning it into an office studio that will accommodate start-up high tech businesses.
The town has seen the creative marketplace growing and considers it to be a future economic driver for the local economy.
The area is rapidly becoming a hub for creative workers, including graphic designers, sound engineers and video game designers. These professions, according to CAO Daniel Sailland, are attracting a mobile workforce with the potential to grow, and may lead to the establishment of a high-tech business network in the region.
In 2014, the town established a digital media studio in the old train station that offers business-minded individuals low-cost, hot desk opportunities, and two incubation offices that allow small groups of three to five people. However, it does not provide much room for businesses to expand. The town has already seen two startup companies leave the region due to lack of affordable space to suit their needs.
“That became too small,” said Sailland. “We needed a larger space to accommodate these companies. And that’s where the old fire hall comes into play.”
The bays of the old fire hall can provide an ideal open location for the installation of desk spaces in the downtown core and it is also close to a myriad of amenities. Once remodelled, it will be able to provide space for up to 10 extra people. The plan is to conduct minor improvements that include upgrading electrical and flooring, fixing the bathroom to meet building codes, and paint and drapes to create an ideal ambiance to meet the needs of tech companies.
At present, the top floor is being leased by Cloudhead Games, which employs about 14 people and is rapidly expanding. Sailland said Cloudhead will be the first company in line to accommodate the renovated old fire hall.
Sailland said they are hoping once the start-up tech companies grow bigger they will be able to move into a building of their own.
The cost to rent the new space will be below market value and the lease is for 18 months, said Sailland.
“There’s a reassessment after 18 months and because we’re new to this and we’re feeling our way across, we’re probably looking at three- to five-year windows with any one company and then we provide opportunity for another company,” said Sailland. “This certainly allows companies to start from a hot-desking model all the way through growing into a company and then stepping into full-market rates and the regular market.”
Sailland said they are adapting to the needs of the industry and are exploring this business incubation concept for the town’s economic benefit.
The cost of the project is around $19,932. The town has just been awarded $5,000 for the project by the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Northern Community Economic Development program.