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City shouldn’t mess with Waterfront Toronto’s success

State of waterfront address a reminder of how far city has come — and how far it has to go.

Christopher Hume – Toronto Star

At this point, Waterfront Toronto’s success speaks for itself. Revitalization still has a long way to go, but a decade into a 35-year process, things are looking good.

Comment: Finally. It has taken SO long to get here. But now that it has started, hoo boy, it is going gangbusters!

Though the argument for excellence has never gained traction in Toronto, WT CEO John Campbell made a pretty convincing case for it at his State of the Waterfront Address April 1.

As the departing head of the tripartite corporation pointed out, the result of the agency’s $1.3-billion expenditure is $2.6 billion in direct private-sector investment and a further $10.4 billion in indirect investment.

Underpass Park
As Campbell also explained, using a counter-intuitive yet enlightened strategy, WT put much of its money in the public realm, the part that usually comes last. Starting with the “frills” — Sugar Beach, Sherbourne Common, HTO, Underpass Park, Corktown Common, etc. — enabled people to see past the grime to the huge potential of these former industrial lands.

“Building amenities first is not the normal model for developers,” Campbell told an attentive audience of several hundred. “But this is about more than real estate. Revitalization is not redevelopment.”

Try telling that to your average builder, or city councillor. By acting as the “master developer,” WT can bring a more holistic perspective to the process. That means ensuring that new buildings are constructed to the highest environmental standards, with leading-edge technology, no more than a four- or five-minute walk from transit. It also means architectural excellence and a public realm that’s second to none.

Comment: Finally we have a serious push to more green building. Why has this taken so long?

Daniels City of the Arts
Don’t forget that, aside from building giant flood barriers, cleaning vast quantities of contaminated soil and purifying dirty water, the real job here is to create desire. The amount of construction on the waterfront and surroundings is a clear indication that WT has figured out that aspect of things.

Campbell also discussed the recently announced Daniels Waterfront development, an ambitious mixed-use project that has already lined up a number of cultural agencies as tenants. Located on private property — the site of the old Guvernment night club — the scheme lives up to both WTs requirements and its spirit. It will even extend Sugar Beach across Queens Quay and give it a new northern addition.

But there are issues, most notably the scheme to expand the Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport to accommodate jets. “Were very concerned about the scale of airport expansion,” Campbell told a loudly cheering crowd. “Whats the impact of that sort of change, not just adding 200 metres of dirt in the lake at either end of the runway? And how does it fit into the overall plan?”

The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t. Indeed, island airport expansion flies in the face of everything WT and the governments that support it have been doing on the waterfront since 2001, when the organization was formed.

The Guvernment
There are other challenges, too, such as whether WT will have the financing it needs to fulfill its mandate. The original $1.5 million is almost gone, and no commitments have been forthcoming.

Ideally, WT will be able to raise cash through the sale of properties that it has planned and prepared for development. The next part of WT’s agenda includes re-naturalizing the mouth of the Don River, building a second flood protection berm, transit and public realm improvements.

In the meantime, the city is halfway through yet another review of WT, which, if it weren’t so petty, would almost be funny. The arrival of city planners and politicians on the waterfront would be the kiss of death for the one local city-building body worthy of the name.

Only in Toronto is civic success a cause for civic concern.

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.


Waterfront Toronto development just getting started

Steve McLean – Property Biz Canada

Where Canada’s largest city meets Lake Ontario looks much different today than when Waterfront Toronto was established in 2001 to oversee, lead and implement the revitalization of the 2,000-acre area, and there’s a lot more to come.

However, that future growth is contingent on renewed financial commitments from federal, provincial and municipal levels of government.

“A ‘no this year just means ‘not yet,” Waterfront Toronto president and chief executive officer John Campbell said Wednesday night. “Well use ongoing land revenue to develop as much as we can.”

The largest urban renewal project in North America and one of the largest waterfront redevelopment initiatives in the world is expected to provide Toronto with a variety of parks and public spaces, 40,000 residential units and 11 million square feet of commercial space as it evolves over the next 15 years, Campbell said.

Comment: Which is why I tell people now is the time to buy in the east end.

Campbell was speaking to about 400 people at a town hall meeting at Toronto Reference Library while reviewing whats already been achieved and looking ahead to the future of the waterfront.

Lower Don Lands
“Were just starting,” Campbell replied when asked by RENX about future projects to join existing developments such as the Corus Entertainment and George Brown College buildings in the city’s east waterfront area.

“In Hines-Tridel, we have another 1,500 units and half-a-million square feet of office space, plus weve got Quayside that will probably have another 1,000 units. North Keating will have several thousand units … so we can expect to see a lot more private-sector investment. The Pan Am Village is only part of the West Don Lands. Its 20 acres out of 80.  So I think things are going to start to accelerate dramatically.”

The Waterfront Innovation Centre, Daniels Waterfront and the River City and Monde condominiums will also be important parts of the area once they’re completed, along with Toronto Community Housing projects in West Don Lands.

“The publicly owned lands on the waterfront will have 20% of its units dedicated to affordable rentals so we can be inclusive of people of all income levels on the waterfront rather than just those who can afford the more expensive condos,” said Waterfront Toronto development vice-president Meg Davis.

Commitment from three levels of government

The federal, provincial and municipal governments each contributed $500 million and property to the initiative and gave Waterfront Toronto the authority to develop the land by “using real estate economics to fuel the engine” to foster environmental responsibility, social diversity and economic value creation.

About $1.26 billion of the $1.5 billion committed by the three levels of government has been invested, but Campbell is hopeful Waterfront Toronto’s economic benefits will convince them to commit more money to help fund future priorities, including $975 million for flood plain protection, to take it to the end of its mandate in 2023.

Lower Don Lands
Those benefits include attracting new development valued at $2.6 billion, construction generating $1.17 billion in labour income and $838 million in government revenues, as well as being a catalyst for private sector development projects valued at $9.6 billion on privately owned lands adjacent to the new waterfront infrastructure improvements.

Toronto Waterfront land “fairly cheap”

Campbell stressed Waterfront Toronto isn’t running out of money, but told RENX relying on land revenue is a challenge because what it controls is “fairly cheap” and worth 10% or less of what waterfront property in places like Sydney, Australia or Hong Kong sells for, so it cant realize the value other cities can.

Comment: The more they build, the more the remaining land becomes worth.

Building on land south of Front Street is also difficult and expensive because it consists of dirt dredged from the bottom of Lake Ontario, disused wharfs, abandoned ships, construction debris and municipal waste.

“Great cities are determined by their public realm,” Campbell said of Waterfront Toronto projects that have won 60 design awards before he listed many of the parks and public spaces that have been created or revitalized by the agency.

These include York Quay, Canada Square, Ontario Square, Portland Slip Waters Edge Promenade, Spadina WaveDeck, Rees WaveDeck, Simcoe WaveDeck, John Quay, Canada’s Sugar Beach, East Bayfront Waters Edge Promenade, Queens Quay Promenade, Sherbourne Common, Corktown Common, Underpass Park, Don River Park, Cherry Beach Sports Fields, Marilyn Bell Park, Martin Goodman Trail, Mimico Waterfront Park and Port Union Waterfront Park.

Campbell announced Queens Quay West will be finished on June 19 after three years of construction and public inconvenience, and he envisions the transformed boulevard becoming “Toronto’s signature street.”

Sustainability and public engagement

Campbell’s report also highlighted the importance that Waterfront Toronto has placed on:

* sustainability, green buildings, recycling contaminated soil,servicing the land it sells, and creating marine use and aquatic habitat strategies;
* public transit, public art, and building “smart” infrastructure and an ultra-high-speed broadband community network along with a digital inclusion policy;
* being transparent and accountable to the public and keeping costs down.

But when asked what Waterfront Toronto’s crowning achievement has been thus far, Campbell quickly replied: “The public engagement. We basically have the support of the community and its one of the few times I know of that we’ve had an agency garner that kind of public support.”

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.


Toronto Housing Market May Not Join in Soft Landing

Don Curren – Wall Street Journal

Canada’s high-flying housing market finally seems to be making a landing that will be harder in some areas–notably the oil-producing provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan–than elsewhere, according to BMO Capital Markets.

Comment: It isn’t really. BC is doing well, Alberta and Saskatchewan not so much. Manitoba is okay, Ontario is booming. Quebec is always been crappy, and the Maritimes. It is a BIG country, different things are happening in different areas. You can’t compare Copenhagen with Istanbul, can you?

Except for Vancouver and Toronto. The latter in particular has a flight plan that doesn’t include landing anytime soon, BMO says. It says Toronto’s housing market has, for a number of reasons, disconnected from housing markets elsewhere and is likely to see continued gains, at least for single-family homes.

Comment: Disconnected? It was never connected to begin with. What happens in Halifax or Quebec City, Winnipeg or Calgary, it has NOTHING to do with Toronto. Except maybe, when businesses fled Montreal, they came to Toronto. When oil tanked recently, it put more money in the pockets of Ontarians. But the price of a house in Regina has nothing to do with condos in Toronto.

Toronto housing market
The health of Canada’s housing market remains a key concern for Canadians and their economic policymakers. Years of upward movement in housing prices, fueled by rock-bottom interest rates, have pushed prices far beyond historic norms and led some to fear a destabilizing correction. In December, the Bank of Canada said it believed the market was between 10% and 30% overvalued.

Comment: Inflation. Look it up. Chocolate bars have set record prices as well, if you compare them to the 1980s or 1960s. So what? The important thing is that monthly carrying costs, comparing average house prices and current mortgage rates to prices and rates from 30-35 years ago, we see that the monthly cost is almost the same. So housing costs are actually bang on historical norms.

But Canada’s housing market actually consists of a number of regional markets with very different factors at play. BMO notes that while Canadian prices are up 5% in the past year, in nearly three-quarters of Canada’s 26 largest cities they rose by less than 4%. Gains have been largely confined to Vancouver and Toronto.

Comment: Note that 75% rose less than 4%, but Toronto and Vancouver rose more than that. That means at least 22 of 26 markets saw prices rise last year. That is pretty solid performance across the board, if you ask me.

And the view that there’s been over building in Toronto is a misconception, BMO says.

Comment: It is an incorrect assumption propagated by the media. How can there be overbuilding when all the condos are sold? When 80% are sold before construction. When over 98% are sold by the time title changes hands. How is that building too many?

That’s because the structure of Toronto’s housing market is changing. The construction of condos reflects a push toward “intensification” that’s driven by legislation aimed at controlling urban sprawl.

Comment: It is actually driven by many things. Demographics, prices, commuting preferences, etc. Legislation is pretty close to the bottom of the list.

Provincial legislation passed in 2005 sets intensification targets and development restrictions around Toronto’s metropolitan area, BMO notes. It required that by the year 2015 – and in the following years – a minimum of 40% of all residential development must happen within already developed areas.

Comment: Have you seen the acres and acres of house building in north Pickering, in Oshawa, Brampton or Markham? There are tens of thousands of houses going into subdivisions across the 905. Trust me, legislation isn’t doing much of anything.

“In reality, most municipalities have seen intensification rates run well above the 40% mark in recent years,” BMO says.

With land in Toronto and other area cities scarce, developers are building condos instead. While there were 57,000 condo units under construction in Toronto at the end of 2014, only 7,200 single-detached homes were being built.

Comment: And in the 905, the values are flipped.

“That’s the widest gap on record since the 1960s, and the lowest non-recession tally for detached homes since the mid-1990s housing bust,” BMO says.

Instead of moving out of the city to the suburbs for more affordable properties, buyers are purchasing homes inside the city. Often, those are condos. But demand for detached houses in Toronto is ramping up in response to changing demographics, BMO says.

Comment: And the fact that there are no new houses being created in the 416. Freehold construction is pretty much restricted to infill housing, replacing an older home with a newer one. But it is still just one house, nothing was added to the supply.

Population growth in the 25-34 age group accelerated over the past decade, supporting the robust expansion of the condo market, but that growth is starting to soften. Growth in the 35-39 group is now accelerating and the 40-44 group is poised to pick up, and those two groups tend to look for detached houses rather than condos, BMO says.

As a result, prices for detached homes are climbing more sharply than condos; benchmark Toronto single-family prices have surged almost 25% in the last three years, while apartment prices have risen by 10%, BMO says.

“Combining these supply and demand fundamentals suggests that Toronto condo prices could be in for a prolonged period of stagnation, or very sluggish growth, while detached home prices outperform through the end of the decade, barring a major external shock,” it says.

Comment: I wouldn’t call it stagnation or sluggish growth. Condo prices will simply rise slower than houses.

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.