Tag Archives: public plaza
In the heart of club land, one councillor pushes for a family-friendly city
Natalie Alcoba, National Post
Out of the concrete ashes of a cathedral-like fixture on the party-people circuit, a condo tower is slated to rise in Toronto’s once infamous Entertainment District.
The Joker, with vaulted ceilings, had its last laugh several years ago on Richmond Street. It’s being replaced by a 36-storey residential/retail tower.
Across the road, a trifecta of clubs are living on borrowed time — there’s a proposal to transform the southeast corner at Peter Street into a residential tower with a public plaza out front.
The list goes on in a neighbourhood that is a bona fide club graveyard these days.
At its height in the mid-2000s, the area extending north of Richmond, to the lake, from Simcoe to Spadina, was said to boast more than 80 nightclubs — the thickest concentration in North America — many of them of the “big box” fare that crammed hundreds of revellers into warehouses. Now, police, business and political officials peg it closer to 30 or 40. It’s been a gradual taming of club land, pushed in part by local councillor Adam Vaughan and his vision for a more “complex” neighbourhood that people walk in, not just through.
A former broadcast journalist, Mr. Vaughan campaigned in 2006 to create a more family-friendly downtown, warning that such complexes as CityPlace, almost exclusively the domain of singles, risked succumbing to the kind of decay and disrepair seen in St. James Town, near Bloor Street north of Cabbagetown.
His first term has revolved around development that pairs commercial with residential, and allows people with different sized families, and different socio-economic levels, to live in the same building or on the same block. This week he unveiled Canoe Landing Park, a focal point in the revitalization of the former railway lands near the Rogers Centre. There is also a proposal to build two new elementary schools, and affordable housing for families nestled around condo developments, all designed to diversify the demographics and allow young professionals to stay in the core.
The changes to the Entertainment District also mean couples staying to raise their children, or moving in. It means more parks, more small businesses, cultural spaces and hybrid developments that shorten the commute to an elevator ride between home and office. Smaller lounges are sprouting up. The Ontario College of Art and Design already owns three buildings in the area (home to former clubs); the new Toronto International Film Festival Bell Lightbox is under construction. It also involves slowing down the traffic a little: Mr. Vaughan wants to test out turning Richmond and Adelaide streets, now four-lane thoroughfares that go in one direction, into two-way streets. He calls it a “high-tech” version of Kensington Market.
The plans are dramatic, and if realized would completely transform the area. They also have their skeptics. How many young families can afford the $600,000 condos in the core? And with an estimated 10,000 more people moving into the area in the next 10 years (double what currently exists) will the Entertainment District lose its buzz?
“It’s going to be entertainment for everybody instead of just 20-year-olds who come down to listen to house music,” said Mr. Vaughan, who raises his children downtown, and has prodded condo developers to build 10% of units large enough for families.
The latest complex, approved this week at Richmond and Duncan streets, has 94 units large enough to raise children. A daycare opened up across the street five weeks ago.
“I think fundamentally we’re seeing the social and cultural shift in the downtown core,” said Mazyar Mortazavi, who owns TAS DesignBuild, which is building on the former Joker site. “You need the diversity to activate the neighbourhood,” he said, “and once you begin to have the attraction of that diversity, that’s when you begin to see the change.” —
Oliver Geddes remembers the club district’s heyday. It was the late 1990s and his family was running Easy & the Fifth night club, Money, and This is London. But then things started to get out of hand, with new clubs opening up every other week and inexperienced owners eager to cash in.
“When they didn’t knock it out of the park, they lowered the bar, and they start working with some of the less savoury promoters and people in the industry who brought the crappier patrons. And that’s when the violence started,” Mr. Geddes said. That was around 2005, he says. The subsequent years saw numerous shootings, and murder.
Police flooded the area with extra enforcement on bicycles, on horses and on foot. Security cameras turned on. In recent years, crime has been on the decline, said Staff Sergeant Kevin Suddes, with 52 Division’s Community Response Unit. The drop in shootings is obvious, but there are also fewer assault calls and slightly fewer arrests, he said.
Violence, especially drunken, messy fights, is still an issue, and every weekend members of Toronto’s Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy squad roll in to help keep the peace.
Enter players such as the Ontario College of Art and Design, with students who relish taking over raw space and transforming it. OCAD will gain exhibition space near its burgeoning satellite campus when Aspen Ridge Homes builds 742 residential units in two towers at Duncan and Richmond streets. OCAD needs the room, said Peter Caldwell, vice-president of finance and administration.
Painting and drawing students have already been toiling away on big projects in buildings at Duncan and Richmond. Sometimes, worlds collide. An idea to “animate” the streets by showcasing students at work through big picture windows loses its sheen every time clubbers stumble out of bars and bang on the glass. “The students get unnerved by this, they end up wanting to cover the windows,” Mr. Caldwell said.
Janice Solomon, executive director of the Entertainment District Business Improvement Area, believes that when TIFF’s Bell Lightbox opens up, and the towers are complete, the population will surge and demand will spur commercial growth. Already, Ms. Solomon sees more people walking dogs, more small children and babies. The nightlife will always remain, she said, but it will be a range of venues.
Donald Rodbard, co-founder of the King-Spadina Residents Association, says he hasn’t really noticed a big difference in the area yet — most of the condo projects are under construction — but there are at least two daycares. Joseph Ko opened up Kinder College on Richmond Street five weeks ago, and about half of his clients live in the condos nearby.
“We’ve really seen a huge change in the downtown area,” said Sarah Baker, a Kinder College parent, who lives on Queen’s Quay with her husband and 13-month-old son. “We both walk to work, which is absolutely one of the reasons we decided to stay downtown.”
While Mr. Rodbard, who has fought against the concentration of big clubs, welcomes the shifting demographics, he is also wary of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction.
“This particular part of the downtown is going to be heavily residential. Our fear is we may be going from one extreme to another, from party and night clubs, those are in the decline, and now we may not have an Entertainment District.”
Joe Ferraro, another Kinder College parent who lives in Stouffville, is skeptical that downtown living will ever take off for families. “Number one is the affordability issue,” he said. “The only families I know are the ones that have been there for a long time. They’re established.”
Just south of King and John, Adam Vaughan is building skyscrapers in the sky. He knows this neighbourhood like the back of his hand; as if holding imaginary blocks, he stacks the future developments north and south of us. At the corner, a crane is moving material for a new high-rise. In a “master plan” drafted by the Entertainment District BIA, John Street will become the “spine” of the area, or a “cultural corridor.”
A tower going up directly in front of us, on Mercer Street, “will deal with the alley, and frame it a little bit differently so it isn’t so disgusting,” Mr. Vaughan said. The development “opens up” Mercer, where there’s a strip of historic buildings, and closer to Adelaide there are plans for a “theatre museum,” he said.
The local planners would like to pioneer a new format in which a lawyer, for example, could set up a practice in a small commercial floor in the podium, while living in a penthouse above.
“We think that with all the development that is coming into this area, you’re going to have a need for dentists and doctors and real estate agents,” Mr. Vaughan said.
“If you have that range of ages, a variety of stores, success builds on success. It’s very easy to say that government shouldn’t mess with the market and you should just continue to build what sold yesterday, today. But the reality is that we have to build a city for tomorrow and that means thinking about planning for the next decade.”
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