A District is Born

Welcome to Waterloo`s new Idea Quarter

It was a part of the city formerly dominated by one company - Blackberry. Now the area of Waterloo known as Phillip Street - a mere stone's throw from the David Johnston Research + Technology Park, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University is on the brink of a renaissance, recently rebranded by key stakeholders with the support of the City of Waterloo as the "Idea Quarter."

After Blackberry

The notion of a vibrant district devoted to the City's high growth technology community first began as conversation between Carol Stewart of the R+T Park, and Adrian Conrad of the Cora Group, a prominent Waterloo-based property development firm with long term alliances to the park.

At the time, Blackberry was at the apex of its challenges and had announced plans to sell off much of its real estate portfolio, consisting of 20 buildings in the Waterloo area. The University of Waterloo stepped in to purchase five of the Blackberry properties adjacent to the campus, and the sale also brought in new stakeholders, including Spear Street Capital LLC, a San Francisco-based commercial real estate investment firm and Bay Street financier Michael Wekerle's Waterloo Innovation Network.

"We recognized that the sale of Blackberry's real estate portfolio and the entry of new stakeholders into the mix presented an ideal opportunity to fold R+T Park into a larger transformation of an area previously dedicated to one company, into something dramatically different than what exists today," explains Carol Stewart, Manager of the R+T Park. "The key stakeholders in the park and the other development partners saw the chance to brand the area similar to other defined areas found across the Region, such as Uptown Waterloo, Kitchener Downtown and theInnovation District, and defined neighborhoods found in other cities, such as Liberty Village in Toronto and Hudson Square in New York City.

Stewart also adds that plans for a new ION Light Rail Transit (LRT) station located within R+T Park provides additional opportunity forpedestrian flow between Phillip Street and the park.

United by a common vision

When presented with the concept of transforming the Phillip Street area into a "district destination" key stakeholders, including Spear Street, WIN, the Marsland Centre and staff from the City of Waterloo were immediately onboard, aligned by a common vision of what was possible and willing to work together.

"It was in fact a very quick discussion," says Justin McFadden, executive director, Economic Development, City of Waterloo. "There was no need to sell the concept. Everyone involved was keen on the idea from the very beginning."

Creating a district identity

To turn vision into action, R+T Park, Spear Street, WIN, City staff, along with Marsland Centre and the Cora Group formed a steering committee and worked with New York-based real estate branding firm Sun + Moon to create a new name and district identity for the area. After extensive research and discussion with influencers and local stakeholders running through the winter of 2015, the Idea Quarter Waterloo was born - chosen for its reflection of the area's legacy of world-changing innovation and elite business acumen.

The Idea Quarter Waterloo brand concept was presented to City of Waterloo Council in July 2015 receiving unanimous approval.

"The way a broad number of stakeholders came together to work on this project is yet another example of Waterloo's culture of collaboration," says McFadden. "We all understood we were building something that would benefit all involved. As the old saying goes, 'the rising tide floats all boats.'"

From what is to what will be

Rolling clock forward to what is possible and what the Idea Quarter Waterloo will become is the exciting part for all involved.

The R+T Park is already advancing its piece of the vision, welcoming new companies into its community such as Stantec, Hauwei, and celebrating the expansion of others including the Accelerator Centre and AC graduate Enflick. The Park has plans for the construction of two new buildings adjacent to the ION LRT station.

Brenda Halloran, CEO of the Waterloo Innovation Network - landlords to tech up and comers Magnet Forensics and Auvik among others - sees massive potential for the Phillip Street area, as it transforms from blocks of office space into a vibrant district. "Our vision is to create innovation technology hub/village where people can live, work and play. We can readily see a mix over time of commercial business - such as a boutique hotel, restaurants, doctors offices, office space, and residential," she enthuses. "It's a big vision of course, but we're all very aligned."

Adam Ballew, advisor with Spear Street concurs. "We immediately recognized that as part of our investment in the Waterloo area we needed to work to make a better connection between ourselves, the area, and the LRT stop."

"From retail, to restaurants, to direct walkways offering connection to the train, we're working together to enliven the streetscape and create the "there...there," says Adam Ballew. "Right now people don't walk up and down Phillip Street, because frankly, there's nothing for them to walk up and down for. With the Idea Quarter that's about to change."