De Havilland Aircraft Relocates its Headquarters from Toronto to Calgary
October 23, 2023 4 Minute Read
Torontonians in search of housing are not the only ones moving west. The latest bit of good news for Alberta? The relocation of De Havilland Aircraft of Canada’s headquarters from Toronto to northeast Calgary.
The aerospace company recently inked a deal for an 80,000 sq. ft. office sublease at the ATB Financial Calgary Campus, close to its new De Havilland Field manufacturing plant. This builds on Calgary’s momentum as a growing tech sector, record migration and downtown diversification attract residents and business alike.
“Having a state-of-the-art office with sought-after amenities is important when hiring new staff,” says CBRE’s Katie Sapieha, who brokered the deal on behalf of ATB Financial. “By choosing to relocate its head office to a beautiful Class A building in Calgary, De Havilland is setting itself up for success. And the company is achieving this while saving money. Everyone wins.”
Supplying essential aircraft
Back in 2022, Sapieha and her team were pitching for the ATB Financial sublease when she thought about De Havilland as a potential tenant. ATB had decided to downsize their office to create more vibrancy in their workplace and better suit their needs as they transitioned to a hybrid work model. They were shifting to activity-based work and updating their space to provide various work settings to support different activities. It was critical for ATB that their sublessee complement their emphasis on dynamic workspaces.
Although her team had yet to win the mandate, she floated the idea to ATB Financial’s Senior Manager for Real Estate and Leasing Murray Kavanagh and connected him with De Havilland’s broker.
“De Havilland had just announced the opening of their new manufacturing plant east of Calgary and they were in the market for a new office,” says Sapieha. “Their timing and requirements aligned with ATB Financial’s offer, so it seemed like a perfect fit. But that doesn’t necessarily mean everything is going to work out.”
The plant, announced last September, is anticipated to create 1,500 jobs in rural Wheatland County. The site will include parts manufacturing and aircraft assembly facilities, a runway and a maintenance and repair centre. It will also feature a De Havilland plane museum and educational spaces to train its future workforce. De Havilland Field is expected to begin limited operations in the first buildings by 2025.
De Havilland announced its plan to bring the DHC-6 Twin Otter – a utility aircraft used for medical evacuations, search and rescue, cargo and commuting – back into production at the new complex. It also intends to resume the production of the Dash 8-400, a regional airliner used by companies such as Air Canada Express and WestJet Encore.
As demand for air travel increases, De Havilland Field will play a vital role in supplying airlines with the necessary aircraft for their fleets, helping to ensure that Canadians stay connected.
The plant will not only manufacture commercial planes; it will also be home to the final assembly of the new DHC-515 Firefighter, an amphibious water bomber aircraft used to fight forest fires. These planes are designed to scoop up high volumes of water from lakes and rivers, eliminating the need to return to an airport to refill between each trip.
After a record wildfire season in Canada and in many other countries, including the U.S., Greece and Portugal, the need for firefighting aircraft is more urgent than ever.
Landing the deal
Sapieha and her team eventually won the ATB Financial sublease mandate. By the time the space was officially put on the market in early 2023, they had already toured with De Havilland and were in negotiations.
But they hit some turbulence along the way.
“De Havilland’s requirements kept evolving as they reassessed their headcount and space needs and evaluated the best layout and location for their headquarters,” Sapieha says. “They weren’t alone. So many companies were going through this exercise with their office space at the time.”
On the other side, ATB Financial was determining which deal terms they could offer while ensuring that whoever took over the west wing of its Calgary campus would align with their culture. This is one of the overlooked challenges when companies sublease space but remain present on the site or continue to own the asset. “Subleasing means handing over control of the space to new tenants, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t considerations beyond those walls,” says Sapieha.
In the end the parties reached an agreement. ATB Financial’s fully furnished space and amenity-rich Class A building won over De Havilland. The campus’ proximity to the Calgary International Airport and to the new manufacturing facility, along with competitive lease terms, were key factors in the final decision.
“The synergy between Alberta's long-standing financial institution ATB Financial and a nearly 100-year-old Canadian aviation company is an enormous win for the city and for Canada's aerospace infrastructure,” says Sapieha. “De Havilland is helping drive Calgary’s economic momentum and diversification by creating new high-paying jobs and bringing a new pool of talent to our city.”
“At a time of challenges for the office sector, this is a welcome success story for our market. It shows how quality physical office space remains important for many of the companies that will drive economic growth in the next business cycle.”
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