Start Communications: London company running out of elbow room seeking zone change to grow

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It’s a new start for Start Communications.

The London success story is taking over a vacant industrial site near York and Adelaide streets, renovating an existing building and adding a large addition for its new global headquarters.

Start, an internet and cable service provider, has made a rapid climb in recent years, outgrowing multiple office spaces and increasing its workforce six-fold in the past five years.

The company, with about 150 employees, is “busting at the seams” in its current spaces.

Now Start is preparing to build a new home, with 7,500 square metres of space at 639 York St. The company also expects to double its staff by 2023 – a proposal that drew excitement from city politicians.

Peter Rocca, chief executive and co-founder of the business, said he looks forward to bringing staff together under one roof.

“We’re already spread across three buildings now. As we add new people, offices are getting doubled up. We’ve had a couple of teams move offsite,” he said.

The $10-million investment is great news for the city and in particular, the Old East Village.

“I go by that site all the time, I’m really looking forward to seeing this rejuvenation of this area of the city,” said Coun. Maureen Cassidy.

“I think it’s one of those rare opportunities where the site, the use proposed on the land, the type of the business that will be on the land, the employees that will be working there, they seem to be in perfect alignment.”

Rocca and a team of consultants presented their plan city council’s planning committee Monday, highlighting Start’s vision for the site and asking for a zoning change to make it happen.

It’s a perfect location for Start because of the proximity to the downtown, both from a business standpoint, and because most of the company’s employees want to live in the heart of London and walk, cycle or take transit to work, staff said.

The committee unanimously supported the plan, including a boosted height restriction, from 13 to 14.5 metres, for structures on the site. Mayor Matt Brown called it a “tremendous proposal.”

“We’re just really excited to help revitalize that area,” said Rocca, noting the company will soon be rolling out fibre optic cable in the neighbourhood.

There was some contamination on the site, but Rocca said the cleanup is almost complete.

“We want to get shovels in the ground,” he said. The hope is that construction can begin soon, with the bones in place before the frost hits. That would allow work to continue throughout the winter, Rocca said.

Coun. Jesse Helmer said he was glad to see Start transforming the site at Adelaide and York streets, calling it “great adaptive reuse that we need to see more of.”

Start hopes to move in to their new home in late 2018 or early 2019.

“It would be a great Christmas present for 2018,” Rocca said with a chuckle.

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