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Stollerys and the slaying of a building

The ignominious demolition of a men’s clothing store that has graced Bloor and Yonge since 1901 doesn’t bode well for that corner’s future.

Christopher Hume – Toronto Star

If we treated people the way we treat buildings, murder would be legal.

Comment: Amen brother.

The comparison is absurd, of course; bricks and mortar are not blood and guts. But on the other hand, buildings do possess character, even personality. They are part of our lives, for better or worse. We form relationships with them. We avoid some, seek out others. Most we barely notice.

Comment: And we allow architectural holocausts on a continuous basis. Witness the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Stollerys - old
Stollery’s, which has occupied the southwest corner of Yonge and Bloor since 1901, was in the last category. There was never anything particularly engaging about the two-storey structure, let alone exciting. On the other hand, its handsome exterior carvings, limestone cladding and large display windows were a reminder of just how urban the Edwardians were, how they valued the street and the importance of putting the best face forward.

So to see Stollery’s vandalized by its new owner, Sam Mizrahi, is enough to make a militant preservationist out of even the most indifferent Torontonian. Though the city gave the developer a demolition permit last week, and the tear down is perfectly legal, his arrogance is hard to take. To send in the wrecking crews on a weekend — before the hoardings are even up — is as succinct a way as possible to give the city the middle finger.

Comment: It is the distinct lack of giving a s**t that really gets me. The rush to destroy, why?

Would it have hurt to wait a while to see if anyone came up with something brilliant?

Stollerys - current
The misguided landlord has sent all the wrong messages and made himself the latest in a long line of developers whose contempt for the city is more than returned.

But Mizrahi isn’t the point. Stollery’s has been living on borrowed time for years. It happened to occupy one of the city’s most important corners, the intersection of two subway lines and the start of the Mink Mile. Even with its third-floor addition, Stollery’s was clearly a retail and urban anachronism. Though it was never the most important example of architecture in Toronto, the building deserved consideration and respect as a piece of heritage.

The city, as usual, arrives on the scene just after the crowbars have been brought out and destruction underway. The heritage designation process is so slow, haphazard and inadequate that it might as well not exist. The Stollery story has unfolded countless times.

Comment: Heritage is simply a joke.

It doesn’t help that the city hands out demolition permits like parking tickets. Not only does heritage not enter the picture, the city doesn’t even need to know what will get built next. It amounts to a de facto system of approval that allows demolition to proceed with few, if any, questions asked.

Stollerys - demo
The rush to reduce Stollery’s to rubble is unseemly, disrespectful and, without sidewalk protection, even dangerous. Such business practices won’t win Mizrahi any admirers.

Comment: But it won’t stop him. Few enough of us care what he did, it simply doesn’t mean anything.

Clearly, that doesn’t bother him, and in his defence, he claims to have hired British superstar architect Norman Foster to design his project. Let’s hope Foster comes through. His design had better be good, not just because Yonge and Bloor is a major corner, but because his client has a lot to make up for.

So does the city. Chances are that even if it wasn’t thoroughly inept, the city would have settled, as it always does, for the retention of a façade or two. How many condos in Toronto include the front wall of some unfortunate 19th-century predecessor? In this case, there’s nothing else to save.

But the corner demands more than a remnant of a store that has been marooned by time and the city of which it is part.

All we can hope for now is that city hall suddenly lurches back to life and does what it can to ensure that what replaces Stollery’s isn’t as tacky as its builder’s behaviour.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


Meet ‘SoCo’ – Toronto’s mini-Manhattan – the neighbourhood that condos built

Joe O’Connor – National Post

Hannah Lee’s friends thought she was crazy. She was a seamstress with a dry cleaning business in the city’s east end, and a loyal clientele ensuring that all the bills were paid on time, with a little left over. And so why pick up and relocate her shop to the barren lands just west of Air Canada Centre, south of Front Street, on the ground floor of a condominium tower at 33 Lower Simcoe Street?

When Ms. Lee opened Simcoe Cleaner in 2009, she started having doubts. Her closest neighbour was a coffee and ice cream shop. It went bankrupt. Her new crop of regulars, most nights as she left work, consisted of three homeless guys that would stretch out in front of her store to catch some winks.

“It was a little scary around here,” she says. “There was nothing. But I kept thinking, they are going to keep on building — they are going to keep on building.”

And they did.

Comment: It is amazing to see these neighbourhoods come into existence. First come the people, then the retail spaces, some office space and boom – a whole new neighbourhood where once was barren industrial and railroad lands.

Toronto South Core
Ms. Lee’s neighbours now include a pharmacy, a dentist, a corner store, two sports bars, a whiskey bar, a taco joint, a gym, a sandwich shop, a grocery store, a state-of-the-art aquarium and a state-of-the-art public square where fans gather to watch games on a video screen outside the ACC, multiple coffee shops, a cluster of residential condo towers, new office buildings, construction cranes heralding more to come, plus the most recent arrival — a fully booked out, 567-room Delta Hotel that opened two weeks ago.

Comment: Some grocery stores would be nice, though. They seem to be sorely lacking downtown.

In a blink, a great swath of former rail lands — real estate Torontonians once associated with parking lots, a crumbling Gardiner and urban blight below Union Station on Front Street, running roughly from the Rogers Centre/CN Tower in the west to the Air Canada Centre in the east, and ending at Lake Shore Boulevard to the south — is a neighbourhood.

A pop-up, mini-Manhattan, known to its estimated 15,000 residents — a number expected to mushroom in the coming decades — by a Manhattan-sounding name: SoCo (for South Core).

Jack Robinson refers to it as the “precinct,” even though he is not a cop, but more like a wise old sage who has seen it all, which he kind of has from his perch as the CEO of CN Tower. The former soap salesman starting working at the tower 20 years ago when the view to the east featured railroad tracks for as far as the eye could see.

All he sees now is progress.

“It is no longer lonely at the top,” he says, gesturing out the window at the new world below. “The city used to stop at Front Street.”

Comment: Just wait for the eastern port lands to fill in. From Corus Quay to George Brown, through to the West Don Lands and the Pan Am Games site, East Bayfront… that whole empty area will turn into a vibrant new ‘hood over the next 5-10 years as well. Blows me away!

And employers used to stick to the established financial core north of Front or else shipped their workers to suburban satellite offices, marooning them in areas awash in metaphorical tumbleweeds — instead of new eateries, liveable spaces and a revitalizing-for-the-21st century Union Station.

Telecom giant TELUS would signal a reversal in trend four years ago. At the time, its 2,000 employees were scattered in 15 different locations throughout the GTA, a host of addresses that, from a business perspective, didn’t make sense. What did, however, was depositing all those workers in TELUS House, a brand new, 30-storey, $250-million tower, built to the gold standard in energy efficiency and outfitted with a wellness centre, a gourmet kitchen — and formaldehyde free furniture. TELUS’ new digs opened at York Street and Bremner Boulevard in May 2010.

The PwC tower opened next door two years later, with 2,400 employees. The financial services company selected its hip new environs as the ideal place to upset the traditional office hierarchy, and moved all the big cheeses out of the corner offices and into the fray, alongside the minions.

“Some of our less tenured staff are actually closer to the windows,” says Ted Graham, Innovation Leader at PwC. “We all have clear glass offices. Everybody can see you. It actually lends itself to collaboration.”

RBC’s WaterPark Place III has since joined the mix, right down the street, as have Kinross Goldcorp, SNC-Lavalin, National Bank, Royal & Sun Alliance and more. The former wasteland is now brimming with bankers, lawyers, engineers, techies and insurance guys and, once a month, several of the firms participate in an executive lunch. A brainstorming session, intended to cleave open new avenues of business, find common cause and, of course, spend money on lunch at a local restaurant.

Mr. Robinson, the CN Tower chief, is happy with the arrangement. He brands SoCo as the southern extension of the entertainment district. You can pay for parking once, visit the Tower, catch a ballgame, check out the Ripley’s Aquarium, grab dinner in Maple Leaf Square and perhaps meander down to the lake — using the new elevated footbridge attached to the underbelly of the Gardiner to get there. But he also looks at the area as a resident, an empty-nester, sharing a condo with his wife on nearby Queen’s Quay.

His walk to work is six minutes “on a bad day.” And his three central gripes as a Toronto taxpayer — “congestion, congestion, congestion,” — is heard echoing all around the residential/office spaces of SoCo.

“We are building a community from scratch with South Core around the remnants of a 20th century infrastructure — with the Gardiner, pieces of the Lakeshore Boulevard, as well as the railway,” says Joe Cressy, the rookie city councillor for Ward 20, the southern extent of which includes a chunk of SoCo. “But the South Core, in particular, is not a conventional neighbourhood, because it is three things at once.”

Comment: But they do need to work on infrastructure!

It is an employment centre, an entertainment hub and a rapidly growing vertical neighbourhood.

It is that last critical component, in the endless agonizing over what to do about the Gardiner and public transport at large, that often gets overlooked. People actually live in SoCo. Many want to have kids, some day, a demographic requiring community centres, daycares, schools and public spaces to play in. Meghan Coghlin, a nursing student, is one of those people. She lives in SoCo with her nuclear engineer fiancé, Calvin Kwong.

“We love it here,” she says. “We walk to get groceries, to baseball games, and the restaurants, and this is new, are opening for weekend brunch. We have a car, but we never drive it on weekends.”

Ms. Coghlin grew up watching her parents catch the GO train into the city from Oakville. She has no interest in doing the same. Neither do the 26% of North Americans between age 16 and 34 who don’t have a driver’s licence. She wants to walk to work.

“We have talked about raising our kids here,” she says. “But it really isn’t a place for families, yet.”

Comment: A school would be a good idea.

SoCo is hip, no doubt, but to achieve true community status — where families establish lasting roots — it will need to be lame, too. It needs screaming brats. Alas, even the condo salesperson I spoke with a few doors down from Hannah Lee’s store readily acknowledged that you could have a baby in one of the two-bedroom $509,000 suites above, but a family of four? Forget it.

The kid-free vibe extended to the playground at the south end of Roundhouse Park, in the shadow of the Gardiner. It was just Ms. Coghlin, her Norwich terrier, Matty, another young woman with a similarly small dog, and me. Six buses were parked in front of the aquarium — all tour groups from New York. A woman pushing a stroller did roll by but, like the bus folk, she was from out of town.

Ken Greenberg is a Toronto architect/urban planner with a portfolio of accomplishments — Toronto’s Port Lands, Calgary’s Riverwalk, Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York and Fan Pier in Boston, to name a few. He thinks big. He also lives small, in a condo just west of SoCo, and he says that, even as an insider, the pace of development in the area is astonishing.

“We are absolutely achieving what every city wants, which is this great mix of people living and working in the same area,” he says. “But where are the playgrounds — the daycares, the schools, the libraries — there is a big game of catch up going on.”

Creating a vibrant “public environment,” he says — and another park is planned for south of the old Expressway — is a transformational undertaking as urgent as solving the city’s gridlock woes. It is time to recognize SoCo for what it is, a new neighbourhood, and not just another condo canyon. The place has an aspirational, enviable pulse. The place is on the move, which is more than can be said for the poor schleps idling in their cars in front of Hannah Lee’s shop on Lower Simcoe on a recent afternoon, staring out their windows, knowing the Gardiner awaits.

Yes. Life is good in SoCo, if you ask your local dry cleaner. Hannah Lee isn’t scared anymore. Her business has tripled in five years.

“I think it will continue to grow,” she says. “It has taken some time, but my friends don’t think I am crazy anymore.”

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.


GTA home ownership, rent getting less affordable for more people

Less mobility, fewer housing options available to people in various income brackets

CBC News

A decade-long housing boom that brought considerable economic benefits to the GTA belies a number of problems in the marketplace, including less affordability for more people, according to a TD Economics report released Monday.

While about one quarter of the city’s new jobs created over the past ten years can be credited to the housing boom, certain dynamics have resulted in less affordability for a growing number of people and a drastic decrease in the diversity of housing options.

Comment: That is a stretch. What jobs are “connected” to housing? Realtors, mortgage brokers, construction workers? Sure. Someone working at IKEA selling furniture to someone who just bought a new condo? Not so much.

Construction of condo units has skyrocketed while other forms of housing has remained stagnant, presenting a potentially serious economic quagmire when the boom inevitably ends since condos are generally considered lower quality housing stock than, for example, semi-detached homes.

Comment: But the boom will not “inevitably end”, there is no reason for that to happen. Who considers condos lower quality? That is a HUGE assumption you are making. To many people, a condo downtown is much more desirable than a 20-year-old house in Ajax or Brampton. Condos are skyrocketing exactly because more people want them over new houses in the 905.

Toronto housing affordability
“A healthy economy should have a good degree of mobility and a good degree of housing choices,” said deputy chief economist and vice-president at TD Bank Derek Burleton in an interview with CBC’s Metro Morning on Monday.

Comment: And we do! From renting basement apartments to apartment buildings to privately-owned condos. You can buy small condos for $250,000 downtown, larger ones for the same price in Etobicoke, to larger ones downtown for $400,000-1,000,000 and up. You can buy fixer-upper houses for under $400,000 in non-trendy areas, up to $600-800,000 for decent homes in popular areas. Up to $1,000,000 and more for bigger and better homes and neighbourhoods. Go to the 905 and you have options ranging from $300,000 townhouses up to $900,000 4,000sf houses with big lots. From $600/month basement studio rentals up to $2,000,000 mansions – Toronto has an incredible array of housing options.

“What we’ve seen in the past ten years is this affordability challenge has spread to the middle class and even to other, higher income levels,” says Burleton.

Few options for home buyers

More young people, including those with children, are buying condos in the GTA. Their ability to eventually move into a larger property, however, is impeded by soaring costs for units other than small downtown units and a lack of reasonably-priced alternatives.

Comment: All properties are rising in price. Condos rose 5.4% in December, condos are also rising in value. Maybe not as much as low-rise, but they do go up.

“The leap into home ownership is becoming more difficult, and those that have purchased condos as starter homes will face limited flexibility in moving up given rising housing costs,” the report reads.

The shift towards housing “typically tailored for shorter-term living,” said the report, is mainly because condos are more attractive to investors in terms of returns and risk, and because a host of government regulations prevents many developers from pursuing other options.

Comment: None of that is really true. It is just opinion.

The trend towards condo construction is striking. According the report, “condominiums accounted for over 40% of all new homes built in the late 1990s, while more recently the share of condos under construction has jumped to 80%, half of which are being built in the downtown core.”

Comment: Yes, because of a fundamental shift in housing preferences. People don’t want suburban homes as much as they used to. They want convenience and proximity. Plus condos are more affordable.

The lack of affordable options for residents looking to buy townhouses or detached homes is pushing more people to the rental market, which is also seeing soaring costs. Nearly half of household income for earners in the bottom 40% goes towards rent, the report found.

Comment: What about the upper 60%? Sounds like they cherry-picked a segment to make their point more exaggerated. Why not the bottom 50%? Why 40%? Spin at its best, my friends.

Renters taking a hit, too

The only reasonable option available for many residents is renting a condominium. Over the past ten years, nearly all of the region’s new rental supply has been supplied by condos, the report said, and about 40% of condos currently being built will be used as rental units.

Comment: Or rent a unit in a house, or a basement apartment, or a unit in an apartment building. There are many, many options out there for renters. But yes, almost all of the new rental units are being provided by privately-owned condos. And there is NO WAY that 40% of new units are meant for rentals. That is a completely baseless assumption, a number they simply pulled out of thin air. The truth is, no one knows. The most accurate measurement is from the CMHC, which actually made an attempt to find out the numbers. They say that 4.3% of downtown condos are owned by foreign investors. Assume the same number of local owners – with both sets buying to rent out – and you get a figure of 8.6%. That is FAR LESS than 40%. And has some basis in reality and actual fact.

While a lack of low-income rental units remains a striking problem, “a greater share of the rental market is likely to be driven by medium-to-higher earning households,” the report said.

Comment: Again, it is supply and demand. With a vacancy rate under 2%, there is a very strong demand for available rental units. It is this constant pressure and high demand that keeps pushing rents up. If demand slacked and supply increased, we might see rents ease. But not in the current situation. It is not good for low-income groups, but it is the way the market works, unfortunately. Try renting in NYC… that is MUCH worse.

Among other recommendations that include easing regulations on landlords looking to rent property, Burleton said the GTA’s staggering lack of regional transit is exasperating the problems.

“Transit is key … Transit system helps to direct residents to where land costs might be a little bit cheaper, for example. It’s not so much about building along corridors as it is about building more transit corridors.”

If these problems aren’t addressed by governments and private developers in coming years, the consequences will be significant.

“The concern is quality of life … if we don’t start to address these needs then we’re not going to be able to sustain the quality of life and standard of living that we have,” said Burleton.

Comment: Amen, I totally agree.

Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write these articles, he just reproduces them here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.