Thompson Hotel and a blingier King Street West
Melissa Leong – National Post
On a stroll around the block, developers Peter Freed and Tony Cohen linger in front of Freed’s latest project on King Street West, the glossy black sales centre for Thompson Residences.
About a year ago, in the place of the sales centre, there was a low-rise Travelodge with a reader board that announced: “Baseball fans, we have special rates for you throughout the year.” Overhead, cranes worked on the duo’s luxury hotel and condo complex.
This neighbourhood’s landscape is ever-changing and much of that is due to 41-year-old Freed. Since 2004, he has colonized a four-block radius with stylish condos, launching nine projects and adding almost 2,000 residential units to the area. Earlier this week, Freed and Cohen celebrated the opening of their grand venture, Thompson Hotel and 550 Wellington West at Bathurst Street.
“I was telling Peter that when I moved here, about 15 years ago, my first introduction was looking at an apartment in that building and thinking, ‘I don’t want to live here,’ ” Cohen says, pointing towards the corner of King and Bathurst. He ended up in Yorkville. “Outside of the old industrial buildings, there really wasn’t anything happening here. There weren’t restaurants. Allied had not come in and made all of these office spaces. Peter had not started his gentrification with the condos.”
The area is “unrecognizable” compared to a decade ago, says Maria Tsakiris, an owner of the Wheat Sheaf Tavern, a 162-year-old institution at the corner of Bathurst and King.
There were mostly dilapidated warehouses hunkered on the streets, vestiges of the departed clothing industry. The neighbourhood boomed briefly in 1999 and 2000 when Internet companies moved into office spaces. Several buildings have since been torn down, including the old Laura Secord chocolate factory on the west side of Bathurst at Wellington, and Crangle’s Collision, an auto body garage housed in an art deco building. Freed bought the Crangle’s property but re-created part of its art deco exterior in homage to its history.
“I do love the older buildings,” Tsakiris says. “I wish they could’ve incorporated that into the new structures going up. All of them are glass. I do like the brick. It gives it a little more character.” But, she believes “any development is good,” and that sketchier parts of the neighbourhood are finally being cleaned up.
New businesses and restaurants have moved in, though Freed hopes more retailers will come. Here, visitors will find Susur Lee and Marc Thuet’s restaurants, the Spoke Club, which opened in 2004, and — more symbolic of gentrification — a Starbucks, which opened in 2006. Loblaws is on its way.
Clad in an untucked blue shirt and sneakers, Freed saunters with his hands tucked into his jeans and talks in a melodic tone. Cohen, 37, is dressed in a black pin-striped suit with a pink shirt, purple tie and handkerchief in his breast pocket.
Freed says the crowd here is “diverse and dynamic,” much like the two developers themselves. The King West crowd is from all walks of life, though he admits few retirees want to settle here — “When it heats up on the weekend, it gets pretty crazy” — and the condos cater to a demographic who are “willing to spend a bit more money.”
“We were aiming for a style-conscious, lifestyle-driven demographic, not necessarily high end. We wanted to design cool lofts with nice finishes, but the materials were high standards,” he says. “When we started, it was $300 a square foot; now they’re $600 a square foot.”
The boutique hotel on Wellington, however, was intended to be lavish. New York celebrity hotelier Jason Pomeranc is a partner in the property and his New York and Los Angeles hotels are regular haunts for stars such as Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The hotel’s penthouse suite is 2,000 square feet, and for $5,000 a night, “you and your friends, business people, celebrities, regular people on special occasions, a bride and groom” can enjoy the panoramic view of Toronto from the 10th floor and heated marble floors in the bathroom, Freed says. (For your entourage, you can add an adjoining room for $800 and then another suite for $2,000.)
Cohen is unfazed by competition from other upcoming luxury hotels: Four Seasons, Shangri-La, Trump Tower and Ritz Carlton. “Outside of Le Germain and the Soho Metropolitan, there has not been a new hotel built in this city for over 15 years, and I think we’re in need of new product. It’s going to help this city sell itself as a world-class destination,” he says. “The more properties, I think, the better.”
Surveying the community from the hotel’s private rooftop lounge, Freed says that he is planning more condos here.
“Two, three, four years ago, people needed vision to want to live [here] because it was still a very industrial, kind of rough neighbourhood,” he says. “Now it’s appealing to the masses, so demand is growing exponentially. As more features like this [hotel] are put into the neighbourhood, it becomes a more attractive place to live.”
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