The old Daily Free Press building on Commercial Street will soon be literally looking like its old self thanks to a multimillion dollar makeover from its new owner.
Real Estate Webmasters, a Nanaimo company that happens to be the world’s largest provider of custom real estate business websites, is combining its operations on Fourth Street and Terminal Avenue into one main building.
The company has purchased the historic Daily Free Press building which is being stripped down to its original brick facade and having a third storey added to create office space for 100 employees and ground floor retail space.
Morgan Carey, president and CEO founded Real Estate Webmasters in 2004.
“I come from a search engine background, so I come from working with Google and Yahoo and things of that nature since the turn of the century,” Carey said. “I ended up with a lot of customers in the real estate spaces in 2002, 2003. Demand for my time as a consultant sort of exceeded my ability to supply, so I needed to grow. Everything at the time was based on a company called SEO Guy, so that was my moniker and everybody wanted to hire me. So I was this high level consultant working with lots of people and realized I needed to expand the services offerings. People wanted more than just help with search engines. They needed help with their websites, they needed help with their hosting, they needed help with everything so I sort of saw an opportunity and took it.”
The company has attracted thousands of customers – including realty franchises, brokerages, real estate teams and agents – about 80 per cent of which are in the U.S. and the remaining 20 per cent across Canada. In its last fiscal year the company boasted $6.5 in revenue. The company employs about 70 people and $300,000 of its monthly payroll is directed into the Nanaimo economy.
Rapid growth is why the company ended up working out of two buildings as demand for services rose faster than space became readily available. The move and plans to add more staff is the result of a continued need to keep up with rising demand in existing markets rather than expansion into new markets.
“There’s nothing new we have to expand into,” Carey said. “We’ve been sold out ever since we started. Because we’re a service based business, we sell labour – we have custom developers – so as soon as we staff another person they have work to do. We’re in a situation where we’re turning down work right now, so there’s no need to go into anything else.”
The Daily Free Press building is currently regaining its historic brick facade, but getting a modern metal internal framework to support the third floor addition.
“We’re building a building inside a building to maintain the heritage significance of the building,” Carey said. “So we have this giant skeleton.”
Carey said construction will hopefully be complete in March.
Total cost for the renovation project and building purchase is just shy of $4 million – money spent to attract high level talent.
“We want to attract really high level talent and in order to do that you need be able to look like you know what you’re doing,” Carey said. “When we’re segregated like this it doesn’t really give that impression of professionalism or organization, so we want to make sure we have that premier spot.”
Ironically, the Daily Free Press building was originally constructed with a third floor. When a fire damaged the level in the 1930s it was demolished and the building was shortened to two storeys.
The main floor fronting Commercial Street will be leased out a retail space. Carey said he’d like to have a higher end name brand retailer, such as Lululemon Athletica.
Whichever retailer moves into the building, it will have to fit in with Carey’s overall goal of attracting high-salaried people into the downtown core.
“I’d be quite happy to have someone like that come and take 2,500 square feet downstairs or something like that,” he said. “Some kind of store that isn’t a used book store or a dollar store, so that space is going to retail at quite a high price because it’s going to be brand new and we’re going to be quite selective with our tenants because we want to start getting people downtown.”