SAS Canada broke ground Tuesday on a new $30-million headquarters in the southeastern part of Toronto, which one real estate company said will create a “”Taj Mahal”” in the city.

“”It’s going to be comparable to any building downtown

in Toronto,”” said Stan Chow, a sales representative at CB Richard Ellis, which handled the deal. The 110,000-square-foot facility will double the size of SAS Canada’s current home in BCE Place, which it leases. “”It’s going to be state-of-the-art, best of everything.””

It’s a move that Chow said bucks the trend of downtown technology companies to rationalize locations in the commercial real estate market. “”I think (SAS would) just rather own than buy. They feel that, you know, why lease? It’s just a waste of money.””

Generally speaking, “”Larger technology companies are still looking at reducing their big footprint of space””, while smaller players are experiencing nominal growth, said Mark Renzoni, senior vice-president of CB Richard Ellis.

SAS Canada decided to relocate from BCE Place after conducting a survey of its employees and their travel habits, said Carl Farrell, president of SAS Canada in Toronto. It found that a more central location close to new condominiums, retailers and the transit system was in the best interests of staff, Farrell said.

The SAS organization fared better than its counterparts during the economic downturn and hasn’t laid off staff globally, he noted. He predicted SAS Canada’s Toronto staff, which numbers 140, will grow by 12 per cent to 17 per cent annually over the next five or six years.

As part of its move, the software firm will also identify neighbourhood development projects for investment. “”Such initiatives might be adopt-a-park for cleanup, (or) supporting cultural or youth centres,”” he explained. “”Wherever there is a need, we will work with local leaders to help make these things happen. Since we have not identified initiatives yet, we don’t have an actual number. But it would be in the tens of thousands, and we will evolve that number over the years and especially when we are physically set up and operating in the area.””

The new corporate headquarters, which will also house retailers and other companies, is targeted for completion late next year and represents a new era of growth for the company, said Farrell. It will be LEED certified, or a leader in energy and environmental design.

The SAS building on 280 King Street East, which represents the second commercial development in downtown Toronto (after the Maritime Life building) in two years, is part of a downtown “”architectural renaissance”” that has seen renovations at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and distillery district, said Toronto Mayor David Miller.

The long-term economic impact of building a new home for SAS Canada will be considerable, predicted Farrell. He said the company will transport 140 people into the downtown core every day. The building will become home to anywhere from 300 to 400 people, who will spend dollars in the restaurants, cafés and even the furniture stores in the area.

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