Former Aboutown offices in London converted into tech space

Nov 16, 2015

A new tech hub is rising in London’s core from yet another steam-age building.

The former Aboutown offices on Bathurst Street have been renovated into a new home for iConnect, a London software firm, that’s being dubbed the Power Plant as a nod to the building’s origin in 1892.

The new space features ceilings that soar more than 20 feet high — it used to be a bay where buses were repaired — massive windows, polished concrete floors, natural wood, exposed brick walls and exposed ductwork in the ceilings painted black.

The place has all the standards of cool, funky spaces that tech businesses covet, said Ian Campbell, iConect president.

“I think this will create a big buzz in the city, but right now it’s been under the radar,” said Campbell, who also owns the FC London soccer team.

The space also represents changing demands for some small businesses that don’t want a traditional office, said Adam Carapella, vice-president of Tricar Group, the building owner.

“A tech hub would be ideal, the creative industries would be a good fit here. It is a connection between downtown, Old South and SoHo, along the river,” said Carapella.

The building was constructed as the London Street Railway Co. power plant, a wood-clad office building now standing where the towering smokestack once stood.

There are two other buildings adjacent to iConect that are still vacant, more than 4,000 square feet each and ideal for a creative business, said Carapella.

iConect had been on Talbot Street in its own building, but Tricar bought that building — its demolition now underway — to make way for a highrise residential tower.

“They needed a new space and were looking for something unique,” said Carapella.

“We saw it had the potential to be a brick and beam, loft office. There is movement into that with creative industries. This is an authentic loft look.”

The building is on the Thames River, with Tricar looking to open up river access for tenants, he added.

Campbell said the new, old digs are a fresh start for his company.

“Our space on Talbot worked okay, but it was not as open-concept as we hoped. We are able to start with a blank canvas here — that made a big difference,” he said.

The space is also bigger, 5,800 square feet, important to a growing business. Its Talbot Street space was 4,600 square feet, said Campbell.

“We looked at several spaces, we wanted something unique and when we saw this it really resonated.”

Tricar is well known for building highrises — among them, the Renaissance Towers downtown, the one on Talbot, another going up next year on Ridout Street and still another to be built on Sunningdale Road.

“We are major cheerleaders of the downtown,” said Carapella. “We have built a lot downtown, highrises, and we have more coming in the future.”

But the Bathurst Street site is a floodplain, with only existing buildings allowed there.

“We had a vision for the space, we wanted to expand on it and Ian brought it to fruition and added a lot of character to the space,” said Carapella.

That includes garage doors to that bus garage now gone, given way to factory-style windows nearly floor- to-ceiling in height.

There’s a central kitchen area, meeting and office spaces along a mezzanine, and an open space where much of the work is done.

“It’s a creative process, we invent something as code. Some look at programmers as mathematicians, but a big part of what we do every day is creative, creating something out of nothing. They are inventors,” said Campbell of his staff.

iConect creates legal software, specializing in allowing different firms to share information. It has provided software to those working on the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and before that for the Enron scandal in 2004.

“We create software for legal teams to collaborate on centralized document collections,” said Campbell.

“Lawyers don’t have to fly into a city and go to one room and look at each other and make notes.

They do it virtually.”

iConect has 38 employees and also has offices in Boston, Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles, he added.

Cambell sold its Talbot Street building to Tricar last October and leased its new space in April.

THE POWER PLANT

  • Bathurst Street, along Thames River
  • Home to iConnect, document-management software maker
  • Built in 1892, as London Street Railway Co. power plant
  • Front section where smokestack once stood
  • Coal shaft and special venting bricks still visible in brickwork.
  • Former offices of Aboutown transportation company
  • Now owned by Tricar Group

By Norman DeBono, The London Free Press
Sunday, November 15, 2015 7:47:37 EST PM
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