Weekly Regional Business Intelligence

Written by Kieran Delamont, Associate Editor, London Inc.

Can we bring the folks together?

The cancellation of this year’s Home County Music & Art Festival left a hole in the middle of the summer festival calendar. That hole was filled ― briefly ― last week, when another event, the London Music & Art Festival Victoria Park, popped up on the calendar, with suspiciously similar branding. The organizer behind the new festival was Family Shows Canada (organizers of the London Ribfest, the London International Food & Drink Festival and the London Children’s Festival) and its owner Doug Hillier, who was pretty candid about branding the new festival as a Home County replacement. The problem was it all came as a big surprise to officials at Home County, who viewed it as a copycat festival piggybacking off their brand. But by this Wednesday, the whole thing had been called off, after concerns were raised about the similarities and the perception that there was some link between the old festival and the new one. “Nothing against Mr. Hiller and what he’s trying to do, we wish him every success,” Home County treasurer Paul Tomlinson told CTV News London. “But you can’t affiliate yourself, or say that you’re affiliated with us, if you’re not affiliated with us.”


The upshot: So, for all that, everyone is back to square one. Home County’s financial troubles are unresolved, and the gap remains in the festival calendar. Whether there is any relationship to be salvaged between Family Shows Canada’s Hillier and the Home County Folk League will remain to be seen; it could represent a way forward for Home County to have an existing festival organizer which is willing to back them. “I wanted to help, and I thought they would see that,” Hiller told the CBC London. “I was just trying to save a tradition in the city.” So is the Folk League, so perhaps the two parties can pull up to the table, spin some Woody Guthrie and hash something out.  

Read more: CTV News London | CBC London

Element5 receives strategic investment from leading European timber firm

St. Thomas-based Element5, a manufacturer specializing in the design, fabrication and assembly of cross-laminated timber for commercial and residential structures, announced this week that the Hasslacher Group, an Austrian timber company, has acquired a stake in the company “to strengthen and grow its position in the North American market.” The undisclosed investment will support Element5’s expansion of its production facility, taking it from 130,000 square feet to over 350,000 square feet of floor space, plus introduce a state-of-the-art glulam (glued laminated timber) line allowing Element5 to produce a full range of machined glulam beams, columns and assemblies. The CEO of the Hasslacher Group, Christoph Kulterer, said that “together with Element5, we can now offer the North American market the entire Hasslacher portfolio with shorter delivery times, greater capacity and a full spectrum of engineering expertise.” The expansion is expected to double the current production output of the St. Thomas facility and is also expected to double its employee count to over 200 staff.


The upshot: In many regards, mass timber construction is still a niche market in North America. It’s grown steadily since it was first introduced here about a decade ago, but still lags behind Europe (the process has clear sustainability benefits and has been shown to lead to faster, cheaper construction times). In this regard, the Hasslacher Group’s investment is significant ― it’s the first European company to invest in a North American producer of mass timber. “Hasslacher’s strength in the global marketplace, its technology and its very experienced team joined together with Element5 will drive a significant acceleration in our business” said Patrick Poulin, president and CEO of Element5. “The ultimate complement of our mass timber product lines and services will be unmatched in North America.”

Read more: Element5 | Lesprom

Good news, bad news for YXU this summer

The London International Airport released its summer schedule late last week, highlighting more Toronto and Calgary flights. “Air Canada will be increasing the frequency of flights to Toronto to four times daily, beginning in May,” said a statement from the airport. WestJet will also increase its direct service to Calgary with daily flights beginning May and twice daily flights, beginning June. YXU also announced that Flair (beleaguered though they may be) will launch flights to Calgary and Vancouver this summer. In addition, they announced a one-time direct destination package from London to Nashville, scheduled for September 26 to 29. The charter package, priced at $2,299 per person (including hotel and taxes), is being run by BST Vacations, which has run similar packages out of Peterborough Airport for a decade. “This is not your run of the mill travel experience ― food and beverage are included on the outbound flight and is all locally sourced,” said BST vice president Rob Blowes.


The upshot: While the increase in Toronto and Calgary service will be welcome news for many summer travelers, and the innovative private charter package to Nashville will undoubtedly strike a chord with fans of the Music City, internally the summer schedule is likely a bit of a disappointment for YXU management, which has been working to get back to pre-pandemic volumes. Notably absent from this summer’s roster are direct flights to Montreal and Halifax, which were part of the 2023 summer line-up. Ultimately, YXU is at the mercy of the airlines here, and departures from regional airports are under stress right across the country as operating factors such as a shortage of pilots and changing airline economics has carriers containing some routes to major hubs. 

Read more: YXU | Global News

giphy image

Things get odder and odder at Odd Burger

There was more troubling news for Odd Burger this week, which announced the departure of another CFO ― the second time this year that they’ve had to fill the job on short notice. “Due to insufficient availability, Murtaza Chevel has resigned as the chief financial officer of the company,” a statement reads. “[Company co-founder] James McInnes has been appointed interim CFO…and the company has hired a financial services firm to assist with the transition.” Chevel had been in the job for less than a month, having been announced as the new CFO on January 18, a few days after the company separately announced it was halting trading after missing a filing deadline.


The upshot: We’re all hoping for the best for London-founded Odd Burger ― its burgers really are tasty ― but it’s growing increasingly obvious that the company’s ambitious growth plans are running into choppy waters. As the world’s first vegan fast-food chain to go public, it hasn’t opened nearly as many locations as it had been hoping for (though it did open a franchise on Western’s campus last month), it’s been taking on more debt in recent months, filing deadlines have been missed and there now seems to be a revolving door at the CFO’s office. It all may be a bit of a blip ― or it may prove to be part of a downward spiral for the company. Time will tell. 

Read more: Newswire

Morgan flexes strong mayor powers to jumpstart parking-lot-to-housing redevelopment

Mayor Josh Morgan is following through on a pledge made at last month’s State of the City address to use his strong mayor powers to direct city staff to look at city-owned parking lots that can be redeveloped as housing. On Tuesday, he announced that he was issuing a request for proposals for a mixed-use development at 185 Queens Avenue (pictured), the parking lot behind the London Music Hall, which may prove to be a blueprint for how the city approaches other city-owned lots. “The redevelopment of city-owned parking lots will allow us to not only increase available on-site parking, they will also add significant residential density within new high-rise structures above the redeveloped parking facilities,” he said in a statement. “A partnership utilizing city land, and the expertise of local developers on strategically selected sites, has potential to deliver hundreds of new parking spaces and thousands of new residences in our downtown.” According to the statement, a list of proposed sites will come before council in the coming months.


The upshot: For those keeping count, this marks at least the third time in the last five years that the city has come forward with redevelopment plans for the 185 Queens Avenue lot, which keen observers will note is still a parking lot ― although with more emphasis from city politicos on getting housing built, and strong mayor powers in Morgan’s pocket, perhaps this time will be more fruitful. “The transformation of surface parking lots into vibrant, high-density housing is one of several ways we can further revitalize our downtown,” Morgan told Global New. “You could try to spend all of your time convincing everybody from the suburbs to come to the downtown each and every day. Or you can get thousands and thousands and thousands more people to live in the core, walk out their front door, support local businesses, engage in the entertainment, creative vibrancy in the city, eat at the restaurants, just create that atmosphere in the downtown core.”

Read more: Global News | London Free Press

Domus Developments looks to bring new life to two vacant core-area homes

In other housing news, Domus Development wants to take two heritage homes ― 300 and 306 Princess Avenue ― and turn them into two nine-unit apartments, according to a development application submitted to the city. The two buildings date back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The plan is to build three-storey additions on to the back of each of the buildings, allowing them to have a mix of one- and two-bedroom apartments. “I love the buildings. We want to keep them how they are,” Domus president Michael Mescia told The London Free Press. “That whole street has beautiful heritage buildings that have been well maintained over the years and now, they need to go to the next level.”


The upshot: The proposal will require some zoning changes, so there will be some politics that needs to work itself out before the plan can go ahead, but it doesn’t look like one that is likely to draw much pushback ― the buildings are currently vacant, and the proposed renderings appear to preserve most, if not all, of the heritage character of the buildings. “London needs infill,” Mescia said (Domus owns four other rental buildings in the Princess Avenue area). “More young people want to live downtown and these [units] are offering them that option.”  

Read more: London.ca | London Free Press

Dispatch: February 16, 2024

A summary of recent business appointments and announcements, plus event listings for the upcoming week.

View listings here


LinkedIn Share This Email