After stretches as a woolen goods mill, a felt factory and the first Olympia ice resurfacer factory, the Riverworks building in St. Jacobs is going through another transformation.
The Shops at Riverworks is set to become the new offices of Quarry Integrated Communications, an advertising and public relations firm currently based in Waterloo.
Quarry is taking over 24,000 square feet of space on the main floor and part of the second, moving 90 employees from their office building at Allen and King Streets in Waterloo.
Riverworks, owned by Mercedes Corp., currently houses 11 retailers, with a number of spaces in the building having been empty for a year or more.
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Quarry president Ken Whyte said this week the company was looking for a location downtown, where employees could walk to restaurants or stores on their lunch breaks. He narrowed 13 possible sites down to a final two: Riverworks and the company’s current building. It was Riverworks’ location on the bank of Conestoga River and the historic feel of the reclaimed bricks and wooden beams that won out.
Whyte had been in the Riverworks building before but as a shopper, not a potential tenant. Looking at it through new eyes, he was impressed with the possibilities it offered.
“The moment I walked in that building … it was like ‘wow, this building already has so much great character.’
“It gives you some character to build a culture and environment around,” Whyte said. “I didn’t see any other building that came close to the feel that we want to create.”
It’s not a new concept, Whyte said; there are plenty of other examples of creative firms taking over converted factories, from Toronto’s distillery district to the redevelopment of the Lang Tannery in Kitchener.
“It’s the dream of a lot of creative agencies.”
Jenny Shantz of Mercedes Corp. said there has been a growth in the number of retailers in downtown St. Jacobs over the past 15 years, and leasing the building to Quarry returns some more office space to the core.
“It’s a tiny little town with a lot of retail,” she said. “We see it as a rebalancing of the commercial use in the village.”
Most of the displaced retailers are relocating to other spots in the village. A few retailers will remain on the second floor until Mercedes Corp. can find tenants to convert the rest of the building to office space.
Quarry will move into its new office space May 1. Before that happens, there is some work to be done on the building, including adding more windows overlooking the river and dividing it into offices. The offices will be kept to a minimum, Whyte said, to preserve open space and keep the feel of the 1850s factory the same.
Quarry has had its office in Allen Square since the company was founded 20 years ago, gradually expanding over three floors. Moving to St. Jacobs will allow the company to bring most of its team back on one floor.
“When I announced it, our team was just thrilled to come out and be part of this community,” Whyte said. “There’s so many great benefits to it; everyone’s looking forward to it.”