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The Stratford Citizen

Interior plans solidify a restoration of Factory 163 continues

On June 22, city council approved zoning change for 163 King Street, thus allowing the 106-year-old former factory to be used for a variety of other purposes.

For Maryanne Wilson Co, the planning hasn’t stopped since.

“It’s exciting. It’s always been exciting,” she says as she walks through the brick-walled, wood-floored building, which is still mostly empty but, in the eyes of her and her sister, Janet, is full to the joists with potential. Inspired by the phoenix-like success of Toronto’s Distillery District, the sisters have long known they wanted to restore the building and turn it into Factory 163 – a “creative hub” brimming with artisians, workshops, offices and meeting spaces. Now, its restoration is underway, and with the help of architects Jeff Elliott and Rob Ritz, Maryanne is working through the details of what will go where.

The first floor is to be “movable gallery space,” with flexable walls that will allow for a variety of art installations greeting visitors at the southside entrance. A retail shop is also being planned. For the massive, one-storey warehouse attached to the original building, Maryanne envisions a V-shaped atrium running through it’s midsection, housing a gathering space, café, a green wall and artwork. The portion of the original building which forms one of the warehouse walls will have its paint sandblasted away to reveal the yellow brick underneath, and interior bicycle parking will be installed, all creating an interior streetscape that encourages environmentally-friendly transportation.

Filling the rest of the warehouse will be an area where Of The Wall can host art classes and workshops; and a community woodworking shop to be run by Maryanne and Janet’s father, Sandon Cox. Sandon has owned the building since the 1980s, originally running  a metal manufacturing and automotive shop out of the warehouse section. He says the woodworking shop will appeal to retirees who have given up their own equipment through the downsizing of their homes, and has lined up three teachers to offer the classes.

“There’s an amazing number of people that want to learn woodworking,” he says. “They’re just waiting for some oppurtunity.”

Factory 163’s second floor will house “creative entrepeneurs and activities,” joining art centre Gallery 96 and computer repair service OnSite Technology, both already in business there. Maryanne says she wants another open gathering space on the secong floor, and hopes to have the Stratford Symphony Orchestra set up an office there too.

Maryanne is reserving the third floor as office space for businesses, preferably similar ones that can benefit from a common receptionist at the floor’s entrance. Most of the floor has yet to be renovated for office use, but Maryanne says that spaces are being pre-sold.

One company is already entrenched in the top floor’s west corner: Conceptual Pathways, a web development company that moved into the space in July 2008. The company’s six staff members lovingly renovated the corner themselves, restoring the floor, removing the plastic over the windows and brightening up the aged walls. Company CEO Bob Telfer says the work was worth it.

“Part of the attractiveness of us moving into the building was the oppurtunity for us to be creative with our own space,” he says. “When you’re faced with [the choice of] working in the more traditional kind of office space, with drywall and cubicles, versus a space like this, there’s really no comparison.”

Other ideas Maryanne has for Factory 163 include a boutique hotel, where artistic talents from around the world could stay awhile offering educational oppurtunities for the art students; and a patio where people could enjoy a drink and socialize outdoors.

While Maryanne is planning how to fill the building, Janet is working on the ongoing restoration of the building itself. The two jobs reflect the sisters’ complementary fields of speciality, with Maryann a fomer creative entrepeneur in downtown Toronto and Janet a restoration ecologist specializing in the process of revitalizing old buildings.

            On the to-do list for Factory 163’s restortion is the installation of fire protection – on the ceiling, so the character-defining wood floors stay exposed – and a new elevator and internal staircase. The windows are also being rebuilt by a Mennonite woodworker, who will replace the glass with thermal panes to help maximize energy efficiency. Maryann hopes to look into solar panels and geothermal heating in the future, as well as a new addition to the building’s south side, something proposed by fourth-year architecture students at Conestoga College who did a case study on the property.

            Maryanne says she and Janet plan to host an open house and launch party for Factory 163 at the start of the 2010 tourist season. It’s their goal to have the third-floor offices full and the first-floor gallery and arts programming in place by then she says. An arts market fundraiser will be held on November 14, hosted by Off The Wall and Gallery 96, and Factory 163 will even be making an appearance at the Savour Stratford Perth County festival this weekend as the sponsor for the main stage. Maryanne says that kind of engagement with Stratford and area is at the heart of her and Janet’s plans for Factory 163.

“It’s about community building,” she says. “To come here for this project really means a lot to me. A rural community needs a centralized point where we can meet and exchange ideas, and Stratford’s a great place to do this in.” Sandon says he applauds his daughters’ effort 100 percent.

            “I’m so impressed with what they’ve accomplished here,” he says. “They’ve turned this building into a worthwhile project and expanded its capabilities … doing wonderful things I never would have thought of.”