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A neighbourhood from the past looks to the future
Paula Kulig – Yourhome.ca
In Victoria Memorial Square, a park just west of Toronto’s downtown that was recently restored and revitalized, the Union Jack proudly flies. While the British flag might seem out of place in a modern, diverse city, it’s right at home in a park named in 1837 for Princess Victoria, heir apparent to the British crown.
The two-acre park — which contains a military burial ground that operated from 1794 to 1863, and is part of the Fort York National Historic Site — has become the focal point of Wellington Place, one of Toronto’s oldest neighbourhoods bounded by King St., Spadina Ave., Front St. and Bathurst St.
In the early years, there were signs that the city’s wealthy were interested in building their mansions in the area. But that stopped in the 1850s when railroad companies began to set up shop on land south of Front St., and industry and commerce moved in. Factories came to dominate the area and little housing was built. Over time, the park became rundown.
It wasn’t until the late 1990s, when the area’s transformation to a mixed-use neighbourhood began, that the long-neglected park was noticed and residents got to work convincing the city that its rejuvenation was necessary. A fundraising campaign began and a landscape architect was hired by the Wellington Place Neighbourhood Association to help make the residents’ vision a reality.
“Victoria Memorial Square will be an urban jewel, rescued from a wasteland of neglect and forgetfulness,” the late urban activist Jane Jacobs said in 2002. “It beautifully ties the city’s earliest roots into a living, caring, revitalized community. The whole city is made richer by this enlightened act of stewardship.”
The project took about seven years to complete, but the result is a place that both allows residents of the nearby midrise condos to soak up some sunshine on a park bench and honours the final resting place of those who came before.
A granite walkway through the grass marks off the cemetery’s borders, while at the park’s eastern end at Portland St., 17 original gravestones have been installed as part of a “memorial wall.” Keeping watch over the square is “The Old Soldier,” a bronze statue created by renowned sculptor Walter Allward and unveiled in 1907 as a monument to the War of 1812.
Although history is everywhere in the area, time has marched on, and today the factories are home to a different kind of industry — such as advertising, architecture and other creative endeavours — while some have been turned into housing. At the same time, other condominium developments have been built from scratch, and the activity shows no signs of slowing down.
According to Urbanation, which tracks Toronto’s condo market, 14 condo projects with 1,279 units have been built in Wellington Place in at least the past decade, while 11 projects with 1,710 suites are currently either being marketed or under construction. A further six developments with 1,483 units are at the proposal stage.
With its proximity to downtown office towers and all forms of entertainment — from theatre and sports to nightclubs and restaurants — there was a likelihood that, if left unchecked, highrise condos would take over the historic neighbourhood. But that hasn’t happened, in large part due to the efforts of the neighbourhood association.
The association formed in 1999, just after the first residential building went up in the area since the 1880s — a six-storey condo at 20 Niagara St. that overlooks Victoria Memorial Square. It’s worked with the city to try to ensure that new development fits with the area’s character and that buildings don’t go beyond the mid-rise level.
The association has also set its sights on remaking Wellington St. between Portland and Spadina. It envisions what it calls the Wellington Street Linear Park, with ample green space on either side of the street, which has an unusually wide 40-metre right-of-way. The city has accepted the idea.
As more condos were built and residents moved in, amenities that go with urban living have been added to the community and just beyond its borders. All kinds of stores and services are within walking distance on King and Queen Sts., including a new Loblaws grocery store at Queen and Portland that’s due to open next month.
Undisturbed by the flurry of activity is Draper St., which runs from Wellington to Front, just east of Portland. The narrow street, which has been designated a Heritage Conservation District, holds enchanting semi-detached cottages and row houses built in the 1880s, many for labourers working for the railroads.
Just west of Draper, running south from Front, a pedestrian bridge is being built that will span the railroad tracks and connect the neighbourhood to Toronto’s waterfront. The bridge is expected to be completed by 2012, providing a link to this historically important corner of the city that continues to remake itself.
Contact the Jeffrey Team for more information – 416−388−1960
Laurin & Natalie Jeffrey are Toronto Realtors with Century 21 Regal Realty.
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Tracy Hanes – Toronto Star
Peter Freed was musing about the kind of place where he and the people he knows would enjoy living.
“You’d like to be able to order up a cheeseburger and an ice bucket with a few Heinekens or be served breakfast in bed once in awhile,” he says.
When Freed, the developer who has put a stylish stamp on his King West neighbourhood, gets such an idea, trust it will happen. Buyers at his newly launched project, Thompson Residences, will be able to take advantage of burger and beer on demand, not to mention catered gourmet meals and in-room spa treatments. It’s the tenth project that Freed has launched in the Fashion District neighbourhood since the shovel went into the ground for his first, on Portland St., in 2005.
Thompson Residences buyers will be able to access all hotel services on a pay-per-use basis across the street at the Toronto Thompson, a chic luxury brand hotel adjoined to 336 condos, slated to open at 550 Wellington Street West in May. The hotel was developed by Freed in partnership with hotelier Tony Cohen. It will epitomize the urbane developer’s vision for a sophisticated project that combines food, music, design and service with three restaurants and a “destination” lobby bar.
The 314-unit Thompson Residences will rise on the site of a former Travelodge in two 12-storey buildings. Because they can pick and choose their hotel services and pay on demand, condo fees aren’t impacted. As well as the room service, the perks include housekeeping, laundry and dry-cleaning services, access to personal trainers, private car service, pet services, grocery delivery, and a screening room. Freed also expects owners will become regular patrons of the hotel’s lobby bar, restaurants and rooftop infinity pool bar.
“We were trying to buy this (Travelodge) property five or six years ago and were excited when the opportunity was presented to us a year and a half ago,” says Freed. “We were just finishing the Thompson Hotel and the condos attached to that hotel. We considered building another hotel condo, but the residential market had really heated up so we decided to do mostly residential (for a total of 310 condos).
“The more we thought about it, it made sense to utilize the hotel we’d already built, create some additional amenities and connect it as one large urban playground,” says Freed.
“Urban playground” is not a term one likely would have used to describe the area on the fringes of the Fashion District a half dozen years ago.
“There were not a lot of people walking around the neighbourhood and it still had a real industrial edge to it, with some beautiful old buildings mixed in,” recalls Freed. “It was not until two years ago that the average person could picture living here. It’s now one of hottest neighbouhoods in the city. Loblaws is opening at Portland and Queen and more great restaurants, fashion and retail is coming in.”
Freed says his first building on Portland St. “was definitely a leap of faith and the first two or three were definitely riskier moves. But at the same time, there was something that was really attractive to some buyers, to be in an older brick and beam building neighbourhood with modern architecture. There was some cache to it.”
With 10 projects in the neighbourhood now, Freed has been able to design the area almost like a master planned community.
“In 2005, we first put the shovel in the ground. We started with 80 units and a $25 million project. It’s evolved into 300 unit plus, $750 million projects. I never thought it would evolve into such a large program,” he reflects. “I do one building at a time, but at the same time try to make each building different from the last to give it its own character.”
For the Thompson Residences, Saucier+Perrotte Architects of Montreal were recruited to create something “contemporary but different from the other buildings. We put in a pedestrian connection from King to Stewart St., right through to the park. It’s really an exciting opportunity – now there’s pedestrian movement from Wellington to King – one giant step to being a community with some flow to it.
“With the (Thompson Residences) buildings, we wanted to address the look of balconies so they don’t look like balconies. We love working with glass and when walking down King St., you will feel connected to interior of building and vice versa.”
Freed’s early buyers tended to be creative, design-based clientele who worked for marketing, film and Internet companies. His clientele still tends to in their mid to late 20s to early 40s, but they may also work in financial services or for airlines. “They are now living and working downtown, definitely the ‘don’t drive to work’ type. They work hard, play hard. The live downtown movement is definitely alive and well and that’s exciting.”
Freed himself is a “don’t drive to work type.” He lives in a penthouse one floor above his bustling Portland St. development offices (in the first condo project he built in the neighbourhood) and can walk to most business meetings.
He believes that a successful “urban playground” needs more than just architecturally pleasing condo buildings. That’s one of the reasons that he and Thompson Hotel partner Cohen embarked on a cross-continent trip some months ago, interviewing restauranteurs at some of the finest eateries in the United States. They found what they were looking for at Scarpetta in New York’s Meatpacking District, where renowned chef Scott Conant serves up innovative Italian dishes.
“They really put it on for us. We had a menu tasting and they kept throwing dishes in front of us,” recalls Freed. “I was most full I’d ever been.”
Scarpetta will be the Thompson Hotel’s signature restaurant, complemented by a sushi restaurant, 24-hour railcar-style diner and a lobby bar, featuring a massive hand-painted, three-dimensional mural of Toronto’s skyline painted by Spanish artist Javier Mariscal.
“This is going to be a destination lifestyle hotel with many different restaurants,” says Freed. “It will be like the Hudson Hotel in New York where people drive from all over to have dinner or a drink at the bar. There’s lots of social interaction, where is different from the old traditional hotel where there’s one guy at the bar drinking a scotch telling his tale to the bartender. This will be about engaging people.”
(Freed is also one of the owners of The Beaconsfield, a hip bar lounge on Queen West.)
Freed says his favourite spot will be the “rooftop pool bar, which in my opinion will have the best view of the Toronto skyline.” Thompson Residences will also have its own rooftop infinity pool with the same spectacular views, says Freed.
He believes the trend, either for condo hotel suites or condos partnering with hotels to offer residents access to their services, is gaining momentum.
“I picture many more of these projects and I’m aware of a handful already going through the zoning process,” says Freed. “It does have mass appeal and is a proven product in U.S. And seeing the success of the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Shangri-La has meant people have certainly bought into this lifestyle in a major way.”