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The Distillery District is a historic district to the east of the downtown core of Toronto, Canada, spanning 13 acres (52,000 square metres) and comprised of more than 40 heritage buildings and 10 streets.
Until 1990, the district housed the Gooderham and Worts distillery, founded in 1832, and which was once the largest distillery in the world, and which was owned in later years by Hiram Walker Co. Its location on the side of the Canadian National Railway mainline and located at the mouth of the original route of the Don River outlet into Lake Ontario which facilitated transport connections to the rest of Canada and indeed the world, and the entire area was once the industrial centre of Toronto and transhipping hub.
With the deindustrialization of the surrounding area in the late 20th century, and the winding-down of the distillery operations, the Distillery District was left increasingly derelict. Surrounding industrial and commercial buildings and structures were often demolished, leaving the former distillery surrounded primarily by empty lots.
Nonetheless, the closing of the remaining distillery operations in 1990 created redevelopment and investment opportunities for a district that contained the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.
The economic recession of the early 1990s, however, and the resulting crash in residential condominium prices and office lease rates in downtown Toronto, delayed efforts to revitalize the district. Nonetheless, two residential condominium buildings were constructed on the periphery of the district during the late 1990s.
While the site awaited redevelopment and reinvestment, the Distillery District‘s unique ambience began to attract numerous film shoots. Since 1990, the site has served as a location for over 800 film and television productions.
In 2001, the site was purchased by Cityscape Holdings Inc., which transformed the district into a pedestrian-oriented arts, culture and entertainment neighbourhood. In 2003, the Distillery District was reopened to the public to great acclaim.
The new owners refused to lease any of the retail and restaurant space to chains or franchises, and accordingly, the majority of the buildings are occupied with unique boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and coffee shops, including a well-known micro brewery, the Mill Street Brewery.
The upper floors of a number of buildings have been leased to artists as studio spaces and to offices tenants with a “creative focus”. A new theatre, the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, has opened on the site and serves as the home of the Soulpepper Theatre Company and the drama productions of nearby George Brown College. There are plans to develop residential condominiums, offices and more retail space on the vacant lands that surround the Distillery District.
There has been some criticism of the Distillery District‘s redevelopment. Some have suggested that the area’s gentrification has resulted in yet another upscale shopping district competing for the pocket-books of a wealthy demographic, and that opportunities for more publicly-funded uses have been lost. In contrast, others have noted that the district provides important space to local artists, and are supportive of the fact that the Distillery District is not dominated by large retail chains.
Regardless of any criticism, the preservation and active re-use of the historic buildings has been widely praised. The Distillery District is a National historic site, and has been designated for protection under the Ontario Heritage Act since 1976. It was listed by National Geographic magazine as a “top pick” in Canada for travellers. The redevelopment of surrounding vacant lands is expected to accelerate the district’s transformation from an abandoned industrial site into one of Toronto’s most unique neighbourhoods.
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by Denise Lash
In the same way a chameleon changes colour to suit its surroundings, a well-thought-out condo purchase will adapt to its owner’s changing circumstances. A realistic assessment of your needs, a modest amount of investigation and planning, and a bit of luck are all that are required to make your condo a multi-purpose living space and a sound investment for years to come.
My friend’s son recently started university in Toronto. Faced with the realization that his rent was going to form a substantial part of his bill, she bought a two-bedroom condominium for him. The “rent” he pays is just enough to cover the mortgage and monthly common expenses, but is still below market rates. He can put his savings towards other expenses and she can use the rent to pay down the condo, effectively keeping the money in the family. As her other children graduate and enter the workforce, the condo may see double duty as an affordable first home for them.
The choice of the unit was made with an eye to her own future. She hopes to travel in her retirement and the condo will give her the security and peace of mind to remain absent for extended periods. My friend is also realistic. She loves her current home, but knows there will come a time when it will be too much for her to handle. At that point, with the nest empty, she can downsize into the condo. In the years in between, she plans to rent the condo and use that income to pay down the mortgage.
What factors should you look for if you’re considering this strategy? First, since you’re in for the long haul, look for a unit built by a reputable developer. Speak to other owners and search the Internet. And don’t overlook the obvious: examine the construction materials and finishings in the unit. You don’t have to be an expert to recognize quality at this level.
Next, look for an active board of directors and management. Are the grounds and common facilities maintained? Is the parking garage in disrepair? Regular and attentive maintenance can prevent owners from being faced with potentially crippling special assessments to carry out major structural repairs down the road. Consult with your lawyer or agent to ensure that the condo’s rules and regulations will be appropriate for your needs.
You also require a building that will suit your needs and those of your children over time. If you plan to live in the unit in your retirement, you may place a premium on a building that offers guest suites and has adequate guest parking. Is having handicap access likely to be an issue for you in the future? You may also want to have 24-hour security and indoor parking.
Another factor you need to consider is location. If the condo is going to serve as student housing for your children, proximity to the college or university is important. Try to get a sense of the local community. Is the character of the area likely to remain the same or is it changing? If you are counting on an unobstructed view from your balcony, avoid purchasing in a building where other properties in the immediate vicinity are likely to be developed.
Of course, life doesn’t always go according to plan, so be realistic about whether you want the financial commitment of a second home. You also have to be prepared to take on the time-consuming duties of a landlordâ€”or pay someone else to perform that role for you. But a condo can offer many years of varied use to all members of your family.
Denise Lash is a condominium lawyer at Miller Thomson LLP and host of the television show MondoCondo.
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If you had purchased a Toronto area home at the beginning of the year, what neighbourhood would have given you the best return on your investment? While prices for detached houses rose on average 5% in the first half of the year, some neighbourhoods have seen a much more significant appreciation. In contrast to the trend of higher returns in downtown Toronto, the best returns this year are in neighbourhoods outside the core.
“Downtown isn’t the centre of the universe any longer,” said Christine Martysiewicz. “Prices are such that people are now looking at points east, west and north to get more home and lot size for the dollar.”
Last year about half of detached homes reporting double-digit price increases were in downtown Toronto. This year increases are more evenly spread across the 63 districts surveyed.
One big reason is that the average price for a detached home downtown has hit a daunting $830,000.
Homeowners are now looking at areas such as the Scarborough Bluffs. The Bluffs is the top-performing area for the first half of the year, with prices for a detached home climbing 21.2% to $360,175. In second place was the nearby Beaches with values up 19.6% to $622,042.
The survey comes on the heels of a report yesterday by the Canadian Real Estate Association that shows the first half of the year with a record amount of activity in sales of existing homes.
A new annual record is expected to be set this year with 186,177 units sold in the first six months, up 3.6% from 2005, already a record year. With higher interest rates putting a crimp on affordability, the association expects sales to be about 1% more than 2005 by year end.
Toronto, which has a more mature housing market, saw activity increase by a more moderate 2.5% during the first half. More listings in the Toronto real estate market should give some relief to buyers who can expect a more temperate market with more modest price increases.
That’s certainly the case in Toronto, where the Swansea, South Parkdale and Roncesvalles communities saw prices appreciate by 19.25% to $640,132. The Bayview Village area, with large lot sizes and available bungalows, saw a jump of 17.7% to $602,211. The Lawrence Park area, popular with the financial community who want a family-friendly neighbourhood close to Bay St., saw a jump of 17.6% to a prohibitive $1,132,410 for the average detached home.With detached homes becoming less affordable, buyers have increasingly turned to Toronto condos in order to get a foothold in choice locations.
The top return for the first half of the year for condominiums is in the Yorkville-Annex area where condos have climbed 16%. The average price in this area is now a substantial $516,729 – the highest average price for a condo in the city.
In second place is the more affordably priced west end of Humber Summit, which saw prices increase by 14% to $173,238. Lawrence Park again made the top five with a 10.6% increase to $327,525.
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