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'We were disappointed to hear that': Downtown business leaders react to WSIB location announcement

Not long after the April 2022 announcement that the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) head office would move from Toronto to London, Ont., rumours swirled that the recently vacated 3M offices at 300 Tartan Dr. would be the new home for the provincial agency.

Labour Minister David Piccini confirmed the east London location on Thursday afternoon, "The new office will open its doors in 2025 with at least 500 workers who will come to work each and every day right here."

Piccini said the move will bring $100 million to the local economy and create up to 2,000 spinoff jobs.

It was initially hoped the move would help fill vacant office spaces in the downtown core and support street level businesses.

WSIB president Jeff Lang said the economic case for buying the 3M property was just too strong, "We did some analysis with regards to some leases in downtown London and over a 10 year lease it's $7 million a year, or a $70 million difference between buying this property and leasing the property in downtown London."

"I know we were all very disappointed to hear that,” said Barb Maly, the executive director of downtown London, the agency that supports downtown businesses.

London Mayor Josh Morgan, seen on Sept. 28, 2023, supports locating the new WSIB headquarters at the former 3M building. (Gerry Dewan/CTV News London)

She said this is another clear sign that it's time to re-think approaches to the downtown, "We don't even, necessarily, have a downtown economic development plan where we're being very intentional on who we want to come to our downtown. The types of employment, the types of sectors that we want."

City hall analysis shows more than a quarter of downtown office spaces are empty and the work-from-home culture established during the pandemic is making it hard to shift that number.

Mayor Josh Morgan noted the city is currently looking at other uses for those spaces that will also help address the housing crisis, "A positive outcome here doesn't stop our search for solutions to the downtown office vacancies. You saw, with the Housing Accelerator Fund, part of our application is to look into office-to-residential conversions."

It was announced on Sept. 13 that the city will receive $75 million from the recently established federal fund designed to spur the building of new housing.

A file image of the former 3M headquarters at 300 Tartan Dr. in east London. (File)

Piccini said the WSIB is supported solely by fees paid by employers. He said the province had a responsibility to workers and employers to get the best deal possible and he feels that's what they've done, calling the current Toronto location one of the most expensive pieces of property in the country.

"To move the WSIB headquarters here is going to ensure we can put more of these employer dollars toward protecting workers in this great province," he said.

Lang said the Tartan Drive location opens the door for expansion in the future, "With a site like this, we can accommodate growth and we can accommodate strategic partnerships." Top Stories

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