Universal Music Canada will be relocating to a “rock star of a building” in downtown Toronto, company president and CEO Jeffrey Remedios told a gathering of employees and media Tuesday outside just near the construction site.
As Universal “transitions from a music company to a music-focused media company,” he said he hopes the new building will become as culturally significant to the city as the Capitol Records tower is to Hollywood, Factory Records was to Manchester, Chess Records to Chicago, and Motown Records to Detroit.
Remedios told Billboard the move is expected late next year.
The planned 40,000-square-foot headquarters at 88 Atlantic Avenue is in a relatively new and vibrant area with condominiums and businesses known as Liberty Village, which years ago was undeveloped and off the beaten path. Here, Canadian Musician, Concert Productions International (CPi), Attic Records and music trade paper The Record once had offices.
Later, as the area was starting to develop, BMG Music Canada (later Sony BMG) had impressive ground-floor digs, but they have since moved to a suburb.
The area is now booming with a younger demographic in modern condos and lofts and businesses that include Twitter, Vice, Music Canada, Gibson Guitars, Zoomer and broadcasters Indie 88, SiriusXM, Jazz FM and Classical 96.
The new Universal Music Canada building is owned by property developers Hullmark which commissioned designers Quadrangle Architects.
“Welcome to our future home,” said Remedios. “So, if you ask a music fan what they know of a record company, there’s a good chance they will immediately connect that label with the city that it’s from. So many great music companies are indelibly linked to location, based in a sense of place,” he said, naming the aforementioned iconic labels.
“Great music companies serve a central and pivotal role in their communities,” he said, “for artists to gather, to share ideas and to create, while engage with their partner executives in the creative process.”
“Our new home will be so much more than a record label’s office,” Remedios continued. “This will be a shift for us on many fronts, starting from the physical uprooting of our long-term home in the northeast to this new home downtown, for a building that will serve in ways no other Canadian record label does, as we transition from a music company to a music-focused media company.
“For a start, it’s going to be a rock star of a building,” he said, proudly pointing out that it will be the first timber-framed commercial building to be built in a generation and will comply with the city’s green development standard. He added that it was be a “modern and frequently mobile work environment continuing to attract the creative talent we support” and a “fluid workspace where collaboration is as natural as conversation.”
Perhaps most importantly to the community, he says, “from the street our office won’t stand as a stony edifice. We won’t have an imposing reception. It will be transparent, revealing of the imagination and the initiatives that are happening inside.”
The new Universal Music Canada has a staff of 150 with a roster that includes such Torontonians as Drake, The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes and Alessia Cara, as well as newcomers Jazz Cartier, Jahkoy, EMP and the Beaches (who performed one song after the announcement).
“While many of our recording, performance and media-centered facilities are still in the nascent design phase,” Remedios said, “Universal will occupy the entire main floor retail space in the building and it will be activated with recording facilities, performance space, promoting and content creation space as well as direct to fan experience, and more of that to come.”
Mayor John Tory, who is at the forefront of the goal to make Toronto a “Music City” and which now has its own Toronto Music Industry Advisory Council, was on hand to congratulate Remedios. He called the music executive “someone who has been an activist, an advocate in various different contexts for the music industry.”
Tory went to Austin on his first trip since becoming Mayor in 2014 and to Los Angeles where he had a hearty discussion about music with Universal Music Group chairman Lucian Grainge and Remedios.
“Universal is a company that is being innovative and is trying to capture and embrace that change, as opposed to trying to resist it,” Tory said. “So for them to locate their offices right here in Liberty Village and surrounding themselves with an abundance of tech companies and startups is an indication of embracing change — that they want to be at the forefront of that.”
The Mayor also pointed out that Remedios “undersold” the space by not emphasizing that the state-of-the-art recording studio was going to be open to independent artists, not just Universal signings, and will also have a live music venue, something the city welcomes “at a time when people are justifiably anxious about live music venues in the city [closing] and this is a welcome announcement in the context of some of those concerns.”
Tory still looks to Austin as the ideal model. “I was convinced before, but I was certainly convinced when I went to Austin that they have used their commitment to music as a means of attracting innovative employers to come to that city and locate, large installations there where otherwise they might not have picked Austin,” he said.
“I’m convinced that what we do here with music, and the arts generally, are going to do the same thing for Toronto, attract jobs, attract investment here — that’s above and beyond the considerable jobs and investment that are attracted by music production and by musicians and by artists that do so much to make this a great city.”