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Downtown businesses respond to relocation of hundreds of WSIB employees to east London

Downtown business owners can’t contain their disappointment after learning a provincially-led decision will remove hundreds of office workers from a building on Fullarton Street.

On Thursday, Ontario Labour Minister David Piccini announced that the headquarters of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) will move from Toronto to the former 3M building on Tartan Drive.

Hundreds of London-based WSIB employees will be relocated from the downtown office to east London as well.

“It seems like every single turn there’s another blow against us,” said Coffee Culture owner Shane Kenneth.

However, he isn’t surprised by the decision given the ongoing challenges posed by homelessness and road construction.

“Last thing we needed is another business to move away from here. I understand why they’re doing it, it’s just how many more hits can we take?” he explained.

Mike Smith, the owner of Joe Kool’s, is worried about the financial impact on numerous downtown merchants.

“In the daytime it’s a large part of the business, and they count on the people that work downtown to support those small retailers or businesses,” Smith said.

In June, city council endorsed a strategy to address the excessively high vacancy rate in commercial and office spaces.

The office vacancy rate in downtown London exceeds 25 per cent.

Vacancy is lowest within Class A buildings— but significantly higher in buildings categories as Class B and Class C.

“London is certainly top-five of the larger municipalities for vacancy rate,” explained Chris Kirwin with Colliers Commercial Real Estate Services.

“Certainly to lose another tenant downtown does impact us,” Kirwin added.

The mayor and deputy mayor took part of the WSIB announcement on Tartan Drive.

A day later, Smith’s message to them was blunt, “Downtowns are hurting everywhere and we need more help— not removing jobs.”

“We are fighting. We’re trying, and we love it downtown,” Kenneth asserted. “We’re a community, but it doesn’t always feel like other people think this community is worth saving sometimes.”

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