By Andrew A. Duffy, Times Colonist December 21, 2010 8:29 AM
One of the Vancouver Island Technology Park‘s biggest tenants has signed on for another three years, adding to the argument the epicentre of the local tech industry is ripe for expansion.

Vifor Pharma, which in 2007 bought Aspreva Pharmaceuticals for $915 million, has signed a three-year extension to its current lease of 20,000 square feet at the 200,000-square-foot park.

The company, which finds new uses for existing pharmaceuticals, said in a statement that it chose to renew its lease because the Tech Park offers an environment that supports its innovative culture and the growth of knowledge-based companies like it.

For Dale Gann, president of the Vancouver Island Technology Park, the decision affirms the park is on the right track and is primed for an expansion.

Gann said it’s also significant that Vifor, a Switzerland-based company, decided to maintain its Victoria and Canadian presence instead of relocating to Europe as Vifor has already fulfilled its obligations required of foreign companies buying Canadian firms.

“They realized that because of the talent they had, the cost of doing business and the people here they decided to stay in Canada,” said Gann, noting that is a shot in the arm for the Canadian pharmaceutical business as well as the Tech Park.

The University of Victoria-owned Tech Park has already received municipal approval to expand its footprint with an additional 250,000 square feet of office space spread through three additional buildings.

That master plan, unveiled in 2007, will expand the park to about 415,000 square feet when finished.

Gann said right now it’s a matter of convincing the University of Victoria that the business case exists to move ahead with the first of those buildings.

“Right now the park is 100 per cent full, we’re bursting at the seams,” Gann said, noting the park has somewhat mirrored the high-tech industry as it continues to succeed despite the recent economic turmoil.

The fully-leased park is home to 36 companies employing 1,300 people and contributing $360 million to the economy each year.

Spaces leased range from single offices renting month-to-month to long-term deals with companies occupying tens of thousands of square feet.

“We have to be flexible,” said Gann, noting every deal is different.

But one constant has been the growth. “They are all chasing business, expanding and hiring new people so we have to keep up which means we have to plan for that expansion,” he said.

Gann said he is already in discussions with potential tenants for the new building as pre-leasing the new space will be key to making the business case for expansion.

The case is a strong one as demand is growing with few options in the city, said Dan Gunn, executive director of the Victoria Advanced Technology Council which is also a tenant at the tech park.

“If you need 10,000-plus square feet of space plus the amenities that will help attract employees like recreation options, gyms and cafeterias and synergies with other tech companies then it’s the only place like it in Victoria,” he said. “It’s a unique property.”

Gunn said growth is expected to continue in the tech sector which will mean there will be more companies needing more than 5,000 square feet of space at a time.

“And if you have a facility built specifically for them in advance it makes it a lot easier for those companies to grow without having to slow down operations or look outside Victoria for alternatives,” he said.

The local tech sector reported growth of between seven and 10 per cent in 2010 based on surveys of the sector’s largest companies, Gunn said. “It was stronger than we originally anticipated given the economic conditions.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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