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Montreal mansions being reborn as offices

Montreal mansions being reborn as offices

Montreal mansions being reborn as offices
 

Daniel Rafuse, partner in the restoration of Maison Bulmer, a former historic mansion and once the Italian consulate, looks at an old piece of framing in the main salon in the building at the corner of Doctor Penfield and Côte-des-Neiges in Montreal Tuesday, January 16, 2013.

Photograph by: John Mahoney , The Gazette

MONTREAL — New office space in soon-to-be built towers has fuelled talk of “a mini-renaissance” in Montreal’s downtown commercial real estate market.

But while the glass and steel construction projects might garner the big headlines, some of downtown’s newest office spaces are actually being reinvented from brick and wood. Designed originally for Montreal’s elite, several historic mansions with names like Bulmer and Meredith have seen their vocations transformed radically over the last century, from consulates to a hospital, only to be reborn again as offices.

Even as old industrial buildings have found new vocations as trendy condos and lofts, downtown historic mansions are being reinvented as commercial spaces following demand from Montreal’s start-up tech community, along with self-employed professionals and workers who are making the leap from their home basements.

“I think you have a lot of young companies that want a livable type of space,” said Lloyd Cooper a commercial real estate broker specializing in office leasing at Cushman & Wakefield Ltd. in Montreal.

“They’re growing out of home offices so they feel more comfortable there.”

Cooper is currently leasing a 13,000-square-foot building on Dr. Penfield Ave. near Guy St., that has oscillated over the years between residential and office space and is now back to a commercial vocation. Across the street, real estate lawyer and investor Daniel Rafuse is working with partners to restore the historic Bulmer House, with the hopes of converting the former 12,000 square foot residence, and ex-Italian consulate, into office space.

And last month, Notman House , a former residence on Sherbrooke and Clark Sts. once used as a hospital and then as the headquarters of Montreal’s premiere accelerator program FounderFuel, was finally purchased for about $3.5 million by the non-profit OSMO Foundation. Through a $2.5-million partnership with Videotron announced Thursday, Notman House is to be restored with expanded office space for young startups.

According to the latest forecast by commercial real estate services firm Avison Young published Thursday, Montreal’s office vacancy rate is expected to rise slightly in 2013 from 8.2 per cent to 8.7 per cent.

On Dr. Penfield, and on neighbouring streets like Stanley St., Cooper said the trend of reinventing homes as offices first hit about 15 years ago and appears to be making a comeback. Owners of these stately Golden Square Mile mansions are transforming them, in part, because of competition for luxury buyers from large Westmount homes that have the advantage of being located on quiet streets.

“It (Dr. Penfield) is fine for older couples, but couples who have kids don’t usually look there,” said Sotheby’s broker Joseph Montanaro. “People in these price points now have other options. They prefer to be in a more residential area.”

Montanaro said he now has a private listing for a former mansion on Stanley that’s been converted to office space.

While Rafuse, a partner at Group Penfield Realty, said he’s open to leasing Bulmer House as a consulate, he said a shortage of space at the Montreal General would also make properties like his attractive to medical professionals.

Isaac Berman, a general practicioner who works part-time at the Montreal General Hospital and a personal friend of Rafuse, said he was looking at the space, with the interest of leasing part of it one day for his own clinic. “The proximity to the hospital and the layout would be very nice for a medical clinic,” Berman said.

alampert@montrealgazette.com

Twitter: @RealDealMtl