Before a fire in 1930, the Daily Free Press building on Church Street had a third storey.
The third storey is back, plus rooftop patios, energy-efficient windows, fibre optic communications, a completely new interior, high-end restaurant and street-level retail space, thanks to a $4.5-million restoration by Morgan Carey, president and CEO of Real Estate Webmasters, who has moved the company’s main offices to 223 Commercial St.
“It’s about 14,000 square feet including the restaurant – the total footprint of the building – with all three floors,” Carey said. “But we had to keep our other two buildings [on Fourth Street and Terminal Avenue] because this took a year longer than we intended and we grew faster than the building.”
The rebuild also cost $1.5 million over the original estimate, but the move brings 80 Real Estate Webmasters jobs downtown and the restaurant, yet to be formally named, alone will have a staff of about 30. The company’s current payroll is about $6 million annually.
The renovation and five-star restaurant is about attracting talent and clients from around the world to Nanaimo by creating the infrastructure to make downtown technology-friendly for companies looking to move here.
Carey is part of a groundswell of local entrepreneurs and organizations, such as Hired Guns, Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation and others, anchoring business operations, product development and production here.
“We’re a quality-based company, so we can’t offshore anything – support, production, you know – because if you can’t maintain that level of quality in your product, you’re not going to maintain your status as the top tier,” Carey said. “Because we’re not inexpensive and so that’s going to be important to us and to maintain the vision of the products.”
Real Estate Webmasters is hosting a real estate summit at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre this week to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary and bring clients to the Island.
Carey said it can be a challenge getting staff to relocate here.
“Once you get someone here, it’s easy to get them to stay,” Carey said.
More people downtown equals more business, but restaurants and galleries and others will have to stay open longer hours to build economic momentum, he said.
“We can be the chicken or the egg – that’s the advantage we have,” Carey. “We’re bringing the people, so it doesn’t matter if the businesses aren’t open, hopefully they’ll start to be open because of the density,” Carey said.