London Free Press: From dated factory to high-tech firm

From the 19th century to the 21st, in one land deal.

The digital wave washing over downtown London is taking out its last factory, with a high-tech company snapping up the better part of a block on the core’s lower west side.

Info-Tech Research Group has bought the 75,000-sq.-ft. block of buildings at King and Ridout streets from Sterling Marking Products, the last remnant of a former industrial zone dating back to the 1800s.

Info-Tech has outgrown its headquarters, housed in a former church at Queen and Adelaide streets, and needs more room, company founder Joel McLean said Wednesday.

Info-Tech is the latest of a series of high tech firms moving to the core, renovating old industrial or commercial buildings.

“The core has better amenities, a nicer feel. You are part of a vibrant community,” said McLean.

The company’s need for more elbow room is so serious, about a dozen employees have already moved into a space at King and Ridout street, formerly occupied by the Tru restaurant.

The deal is also a win for Sterling, whose president, Bob Schram, said the company needs to move out of the complex it has occupied since 1965 to ensure future growth.

He said the complex is made up of 10 buildings pieced together over the years, with various levels that made it hard to move product around. The company has invested in new technology such as a digital printing system, but had to use a crane to drop it into the building.

“We’ve tried to bend our facility to meet our changing business. We are the last dogs in the manufacturing business downtown,” he said.

The block — bounded by King Street to the north, Ridout Street to the east and York Street to the south — is in an area that’s dramatically changed in recent years, in the shadow of the new Renaissance Towers and located just south of the public health unit’s site where another huge highrise has been proposed.

Info-Tech likes the peculiarities of the warren of old Sterling buildings.

“That’s one of the reasons we bought it — because it’s brick and beam. Once you open up this place, strip it back, it’s going to be gorgeous.”

He said the complex could house about 300 employees as the company continues to expand.

Two years ago, Info-Tech bought the iconic Masonic Temple on Yonge Street in Toronto, once a well-known concert venue. But McLean said that building has filled up, too.

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