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Diane Jermyn – CTV News
In May of 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held a press conference from their rumpled bed at Toronto’s King Edward hotel. The “bed-in,” the start of the couple’s North American crusade for peace, is woven into the history of the 107-year-old landmark at the corner of King and Victoria Streets – and into its value.
“Their room was on the eighth floor,” says Jason Lester, chief operating officer of Dundee Realty Corp. “It wasn’t in one of the condominiums or we could probably have tripled the price on that one.”
As a partner in King Edward Realty Inc., Dundee is one of the new owners of the Le Meridien King Edward Hotel, along with Skyline International Development Inc., Serruya Realty Group Inc. and Toronto billionaire Alex Shnaider. King Edward Realty bought the property last March from Lehman Brothers, the bankrupted New York financial firm, in a distress sale for just over $50-million, putting it back in Canadian hands. Dundee and its partners plan a massive rejuvenation of the hotel, including 145 new condominiums on the third, fourth and fifth floors.
Mr. Lester says other groups pursued the King Eddy wanting to put up a tower or even demolishing part of the building, but that’s not Dundee’s style.
“People are always searching out authenticity and uniqueness,” says Mr. Lester, who notes that 142 of the condos have been sold. “Early on, we approached a historian to dig up as many facts as possible to understand what happened here to help us develop our strategic plan. We work that into everything we do in terms of how we’re going to renovate it, how we’re going to market it and any other considerations.
“There is only one King Eddy and it’s going to be around for a very long time. For historical hotels that were created at the turn of the century, like the Savoy in London, you can only live there one night at a time.” The condos range from $329,000 to more than $1-million for 2,000-square-foot units.
While the celebrity connection is well known – the Beatles, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor also famously stayed here – Mr. Lester notes that many Torontonians have a personal affection for the hotel.
“Because the King Eddy has been around since 1903, it is multi-generational,” says Mr. Lester. “Certain families would have used the hotel for various events, then their kids and their grandkids would have, too.”
With Dundee’s total expenditures, including purchase, for the King Eddy project expected to exceed $100-million in the next two to three years, the return on investment will require patience. Dundee has experience, having been a partner in Toronto’s Distillery District since 2004, bringing in capital and helping build the three condominium towers there. But Mr. Lester is confident the condos in both projects will retain a higher monetary value because of their historic connections.
“We’re able to take a lot more risk out of the project because it’s unique,” he says. “If there’s ever an oversupply of offerings in the marketplace, there will always be a certain market for this because it can never be replicated.”
Alissa Golden, an urban planner whose firm, Golden Consulting in Hamilton, Ont., specializes in heritage planning and evaluation, confirms that heritage homes will always be in demand.
“There is a niche market for people who actively seek out heritage buildings, not just for their aesthetics but for their cultural and historical value,” says Ms. Golden. “Many people enjoy being in neighbourhoods that have heritage buildings. A lot of it is that Old World feel and a much more human scale of architecture.”
As to whether the heritage factor increases value, Ms. Golden says that context is a big issue.
“A property might be more valuable if it’s one of the only remaining buildings of its kind in an area,” says Ms. Golden. “For the most part, the aesthetic value is the biggest thing that drives property values when we’re talking about residential properties. You can also make an argument for the preservation of historic buildings in terms of the tourist draw associated with culture and heritage, such as old Montreal.”
With any of the properties Dundee acquires, Mr. Lester says, the company has a vision of how to develop them, although there may not be a lot of details initially.
“With the King Eddy, when we were assessing with our partners whether to acquire the property or not, we evaluated the business plan of converting those three floors into a condominium and the associated risks,” says Mr. Lester. “As an example, we had to sell all these units without any parking. Even though it was a great unique location beside the financial core, that increased the risk. But the buyer who wants to be here probably doesn’t have a car. Even in the Distillery District, where we had a requirement that about 65% of the units would have a car, the demand was less than 50%.”
So who’s a typical buyer at the King Eddy?
“I would say about 98% are Canadian, a good cross-section of people from their thirties to sixties, ” says Mr. Lester. “They’re so excited to move in and proud to have a piece of history. We’re selling our corporations, but we’re keeping our heritage.”
King Eddy numbers
$6-million: Amount that George Gooderham of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery spent to build the hotel in 1903.
298: Number of rooms, along with 21,000 square feet of function space, excluding the Crystal Ballroom, which was added in 1921 along with an 18-storey addition.
3,000+: Number of Beatles fans who gathered outside the hotel in 1964 to get closer to John, Paul, George and Ringo.
869: Room where John and Yoko stayed in 1969.
33.19: Number of carats in the Krupp Diamond, which actor Richard Burton gave to Elizabeth Taylor when he proposed to her at the hotel, after first scandalizing Toronto by shacking up in the Royal Suite.
1975: Year the building was designated a heritage site.
$300,000s: Starting price for condominiums. They range to more than $1-million. To date, 142 of the 145 units have been sold.
June, 2012: Date that buyers can move in.
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Lauren Ferranti-Ballem, National Post
When complete strangers buy into a condo building, they’re in for a big surprise. It doesn’t take long before they’re going for a swim with one of their neighbours and befriending others at the pub, on the treadmill, or in the shops downstairs. Then it dawns on them: They’ve lucked in to a vibrant neighbourhood — and life is good.
Let the kids have their condos. Let them fill their glittering jewel boxes in the city sky and live the adult life of maintenance fees, maxed credit cards and weekday hangovers. But as we well know, silly readers, condos aren’t just for kids. In fact, their elders, the ones who have flown the empty nest for a smaller, more sensational pad, may just be having more fun.
Valerie Rabold and her husband sold the family home in Markham and decamped for London recently — lofts that is. With their daughter on her way to university, the couple purchased their Esplanade condo four years ago. In the 12 months they’ve lived there, they have made an admirable effort to get a taste for the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood.
“We don’t eat much at home anymore,” Ms. Rabold says. “There are just too many reasons not to.” Among their favourite spots only steps away, The Hot House Café, The Jersey Giant pub and Jason George, and, in winter, when they’re willing only to dash from the elevator to table, the brand new Keg outpost, Spaghetti Factory, Scotland Yard and Fionn MacCool’s, all in a row right below their building.
With two other couples of foodie friends nearby, the six have made a pact to experiment: dinner at a new restaurant every month from now on. On the rare nights they do stay in, the Rabolds entertain on their large private, flower-studded terrace. Between meals, they enjoy meeting up at the St. Lawrence Market for both groceries and antiques and strolling the grounds of St. James Park a few blocks north. They have tickets to the opera, are members of the Art Gallery of Ontario, and marvel at the steady stream of action that often shuts down the streets: festivals like Woofstock, bike races and the occasional Hollywood production. “There’s never a dull moment,” Ms. Rabold says. “We should have made the move years ago.”
Just west is the site of 300 Front Street, a Tridel development at the foot of the CN Tower. When Niyousha Falaknazi, a 34-year-old banker, moves into her loft in the summer of 2012, she imagines attending all of the consumer shows at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre without having to stress about parking, and spending lots of time eating out, taking nighttime walks along Queen’s Quay and entertaining guests in a private cabana lounge around the building’s rooftop pool. “I want to be close to the lake and where it’s all happening,” she says. “People keep asking me where I will buy my groceries, but for me it’s more important to consider where — which bars and restaurants — I’ll spend my nights.”
Rooftop infinity pools, paparazzi-proof private cabanas, fire pits and outdoor kitchens, bars and showers — this ain’t Miami, it’s the future of amenities for Toronto condo dwellers. Situated as they are in bustling neighbourhoods, developers are nevertheless making a strong case for staying home. Renata Casey, a 28-year-old professional, can’t wait until it’s her turn to host family Thanksgiving — in the party room that spills on to a rooftop terrace 55 storeys high. The term party room may not be apt — it evokes stained carpet and folding chairs and tables. The amenity space at UCondos, Ms. Casey’s future home in the heart of Yorkville, is designed with the clean lines and soft lighting of a modern lounge, and an anything-but-modest skyline backdrop. “I can’t wait to share this view with my guests,” she says. “I almost prefer to stay in with these kinds of amenities.”
As she currently lives in the area, Ms. Casey’s not at a loss when she is forced to go out. She brunches with croissants at Le Pain Quotidien, uses the University of Toronto’s verdant campus for runs, and spends special occasions on One’s wraparound patio.
Shawn Foley, a first-time buyer at Nicholas Residences, just south of Bloor, enthusiastically adds to the list of quintessential Yorkville meeting places. Though his building isn’t slated for occupancy until spring of 2013, as he works in the area, he’s getting a head start, establishing residency on the patio at Hemingway’s, and classics like The Pilot and Roof Lounge at the Park Hyatt.
On the subject of high-end hotels and their swanky amenities, both The King Edward and Ritz-Carlton residences will play up their social spaces, with banquette-filled, oversized lobbies and buzzing bars. In the thick of the black-tie district, hemmed in by Roy Thompson Hall, a handful of theatres and the new film fest headquarters, the Ritz will offer a 21st-floor sky lounge for residents only, while one of Toronto’s oldest and most renowned meeting places, the King Eddy’s Concert Bar, will see a facelift. On the very same day she learned the historical hotel was converting a number of units to permanent residences, Nalina Williams, a self-employed event planner, purchased two condos in the building. “I love the history of the hotel and the area,” Ms. Williams says. “I look forward to entertaining my clients in the famous bar.”
There’s certainly no dearth of social options for residents of the new condos coming to downtown — among other notable mentions: the green space under the Gardiner that’s being prepped as a pedestrian-friendly outdoor vestibule for Panorama, a condo project by Raw Design architects that’s currently being occupied; the cobblestoned streets and niche boutiques leading to Gooderham in the Distillery District; and the deluxe gaming room at Chaz on Charles, sponsored by Sony and equipped with multiple screens, surround sound, wireless and leather articulating chairs that gamers could spend hours in — as if they needed convincing.
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An elegant overhaul is set for the King Eddy
Jennifer Febbraro, National Post
The year was 1969. John Lennon and Yoko Ono opted to Give Peace A Chance and recorded the hit the same day they arrived at Le Méridien King Edward Hotel. Perhaps it was meant to be sardonic that the famous couple would begin their “bed-in” at a landmark hotel luxurious enough for the Queen. But whatever the reason, their stay was one in a series of scandalous soirées that brought the nicknamed King Eddy fame and secured a place in Toronto history.
Now with the launch of the King Edward Private Residences, located on the south side of King Street East at Victoria Street, a piece of history can be yours. Residents can choose from 145 luxury condos from 500 to 2,000 square feet, with prices beginning in the low $400,000s.
Jason Lester, chief operating officer of Dundee Realty Corp., feels the smaller condos will likely be used as a pied-à-terre or secondary residences for numerous business people who live elsewhere on the weekends, but work in the heart of the city.
“We have hotel clients who stay here approximately 100 days a year,” Mr. Lester says, “And so, this sort of condo would be perfect for them – and any loyal hotel clients will, of course, get first choice of suite.”
Up until this point, the space now designated for these condos has been waiting – with its ghosts. The third, fourth and fifth floors once used for commercial fashion space (as well as a number of other fascinating historical nooks within the hotel) have remained vacant for more than a decade. “The previous hotel owners were going to transform these floors into large hotel suites,” Mr. Lewis explains. “But when the recession hit, they realized there just wasn’t a market for that type of suite any more.”
Residences were the natural solution to the enormous potential of the hotel – a place where past guests will be honoured for their participation in the larger King Eddy narrative. For instance, the Vice Regal Suite where Elizabeth Taylor (then married to Eddie Fisher) and Richard Burton consummated their adulterous passion in 1964 will be transformed into a residence – the newly named Elizabeth Taylor suite.
With the King Eddy now owned by King Edward Realty, comprised of Dundee Realty Corp., Skyline International Development, Serruya Realty Group and Alex Shnaider, renovation of the residences – and the hotel’s public spaces – will begin soon. While the private residences are not yet under construction, Anwar Mekhayech of The Design Agency has created exceptional renderings for buyers. It’s his vision of the interior spaces that captures the “transitional” aesthetic (transitional being the operative word tossed about by collaborating owners and design teams).
What exactly does “transitional” mean? “It’s being respectful of the King Eddy’s historical architecture,” Mr. Lewis says, “while integrating a certain level of modernity to the environment.” To accomplish this, Mr. Lewis explains that the ornate pieces of the hotel’s structure will remain mostly untouched – panelled doors, antique crown mouldings, deep baseboards, 9.6-foot ceilings as well as the lobby’s limestone flooring, marbled pillars and carved trim surrounding the balconies overlooking the main-floor lobby.
“We definitely want to bring sexiness to the lobby,” Mr. Mekhayech says, “by energizing it with a restaurant and bar, modern furnishings and just generally more activity. Remember, this space will be the entrance way to people’s homes.” To revitalize the lobby, Mr. Mekhayech hopes to turn the former “palace hotel” into a piece of living history – one in which new residents feel comfortable enough to work and play. Like similar venues, such as the Savoy in London, the Ritz in Paris, and the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Mekhayech both aspire to preserve history while inspiring the future.
“This isn’t far from what Dundee Realty did with the Distillery District. At the core, this project is about a restoration, not a bombing and starting from scratch,” laughs Mr. Lewis.
Where once “unescorted” women were accommodated with a separate entrance, elevator, parlour and reception room to avoid wayward advances from men, now single women are invited to purchase their own condo. In addition to the suites, The Design Agency will be updating Le Fitness, a 1,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art fitness centre. “We’ll be expanding and modernizing this space,” Mr. Mekhayech says, “To maximize light and to provide more amenities.” Down the hall, the King Eddy’s spa will be gutted for a $1-million renovation. “The spa will be elegant, understated, yet traditional,” Mr. Lewis says. “We have second- and third-generation customers coming here – so it’s important to keep the thread between the past and the present.”
Le Royal Club will also be completely transformed during the renovation. The space currently operates as a private business centre for the higher- paying hotel guest. But after its reconstruction, the space will be open to all residents for social or business functions – replete with a private screening room.
Mr. Lewis points out that the new King Eddy is not meant to be exclusive. “Our building has a story and anyone can be a part of it. Almost every Torontonian already has some memory of this place. It’s not a new construction and we hope that will be attractive to buyers as well.” Residences officially go on sale June 12 with a completion date set for summer 2012.
Mr. Lewis notes he’s committed to a larger vision of downtown Toronto. “Someone from London, England, could not just rush in and know what this building needs – because they would not know what it has already been,” Mr. Lewis says. “We truly respect the history here simply by virtue of the fact that we are local citizens.”
Because of this, the King Eddy aspires to be more than just a residence, a hotel or both – it aspires to be a venue – one in which every Torontonian can participate, whether that means sipping a dirty martini in the lobby bar for an hour or sleeping over for the next 20 to 30 years.
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