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Tracy Hanes – Toronto Star
Twenty-five years ago, it took a leap of faith to believe that the sleepy bedroom community north of Highway 401 would become a major urban centre.
But Alan Menkes and his associates at Menkes Development Ltd. were willing to take a chance on North York, based on its 1980′s designation as a “growth node” as Metropolitan Toronto expanded, coupled with the big plans and boundless enthusiasm of its then-mayor, Mel Lastman.
“Mel was the ultimate promoter; he put North York on the map,” notes Menkes, president of the highrise residential division of Menkes Developments Ltd., which has been in business for 50 years.
Today, looking west from Menkes’ boardroom on Yonge St., just south of Sheppard, the vestiges of the original quiet suburb remain in the blocks of older single-family homes and tree-lined streets. But the view north up Yonge St. is of a modern, thriving metropolis of office towers, retail shops, institutional buildings and highrise condominiums.
Menkes has been a key player in the evolution of North York, contributing 1.5 million square feet of commercial and retail space and 7,000 condo units in 20 buildings. Now the company has just launched what Menkes describes as its “crowning achievement” – Gibson Square, which will include two 42-storey residential towers in the heart of the city centre, directly connected to the North York City Centre subway and Empress Walk shopping centre. Menkes’ first project in North York was the Canadian headquarters for Proctor and Gamble, which moved to 4711 Yonge St. from Yonge and St. Clair.
“They did a study and found that the epicentre of all population in the GTA is here. Geographically, if you draw a circle, put a dot in the middle, that’s Yonge and Sheppard,” Menkes says. “That was our basic premise – it was already on the Yonge St. subway, infrastructure was being added and it was the centre. It was going to a real alternative to downtown.”
Lastman was determined that his community would become a major urban centre and was a tireless champion of redevelopment, notably along the strip of Yonge St. running north of Sheppard Ave.
His legacy in North York includes the Sheppard subway, the Toronto (then North York) Centre for the Performing Arts, Mel Lastman Square, the rebuilding of the municipal buildings and other new institutional and cultural facilities. After the North York Centre subway opened in 1987, Yonge St. started to blossom with stores, restaurants, office towers and condos.
“We began to add condominiums to the area, starting at Yonge and Finch with Place Nouveau, which connected to the Finch subway station. From there we began to move south,” says Menkes, listing projects such as Chicago, Empress Towers, Spectrum, Royal Pinnacle, Broadway and Ultima.
“In the mid-’80s nothing had been built here but single family homes,” he adds.
“For empty nesters, along with new people wanting to move to the area, we really created a new market and added new population. Those older houses turned over to younger families and the cycle continued and there was a whole revitalization of the sleepy, suburban node. It became a more thriving city node.”
A watershed development for the company was Empress Walk, at the corner of Yonge and Empress Ave., which includes two 34-storey condo towers atop a three-storey retail mall and the Empire movie theatres. Phase 1 was completed in 1997 and Phase 2 in 2000.
“We researched the lifestyle entertainment centre and brought it to North York,” says Menkes. “We knew it (Empress and Yonge) was the only location that could support it and it’s still there and thriving. It was the first time Loblaws had gone into a lower level situation attached to the subway.”
Menkes says one of the big challenges with Empress Walk was the engineering feat required to put towers on top of retail and theatres with 80-foot spans.
“We have always tried over the last 10 to 15 years to do things differently than just a residential condo building. With Empress Walk, we took a big gamble, as it had never been done before, with a theatre,” says Menkes. “We took a risk and it paid off. We are not afraid to take risks, especially on mixed-use developments. We think people are looking for something a bit different and it gives us a competitive advantage.”
Gibson Square, at the corner of Yonge and Park Home, will set more precedents in North York.
“These will be the largest and highest towers in North York and they’ll have spectacular views,” says Menkes. “They’ll be connected to North York City Centre, two office buildings, the Novotel Hotel, the Toronto Centre for the Arts, the board of education offices and of course, the North York municipal buildings.”
The Gibson Square towers will be 42 storeys “and it occupies the most important remaining corner in North York, so that’s in context.” Each tower will have 450 condo units.
The project will incorporate some North York heritage gems, including the Gibson House Museum (from which the project takes its name), and the North York Rose Garden, which will grace the front of the site.
“We will enhance the rose garden and build around it,” says Menkes. “In a previous scheme, it was going to be dug up and rebuilt, but we decided we didn’t want to rebuild it because it has historical significance and we want to retain its existing characteristics.
“We’ll have a walkway and it will frame the front of the development. It will be a garden in the middle of downtown and I think it will be a great addition. We are also rebuilding the entire Gibson Park.”
And like most Menkes’ projects in North York, Gibson Square dovetails with the province’s Places to Grow and intensification policies.
“Places to Grow fits within our strategic plan,” says Menkes. “Mel Lastman was a pioneer in creating the genesis of that plan. The whole feeling of changing lifestyle and more migration into city centres has really got people thinking twice about their lifestyle.
“Before, it was preordained that when you were young, you lived in a rental building, moved to a small home or moved up to larger home in the suburbs,” he says. “Now people are migrating back. They are thinking, ‘I don’t need my big home anymore and instead of moving to the suburban neighbourhood, maybe I’ll move to a new city or a new neighbourhood.’ I think people are embracing that – people love that. They feel like they’ve been re-energized.”
Menkes says Gibson Square residents won’t have to own a car if they don’t want to (although the 401 is just to the south) because they can use the subway to get to downtown Toronto or can find anything they want within walking distance.
“There’s great animation in the area because we have office, retail and residential,” says Menkes. “People want to live where there is activity, where there are other people. They want the services, they want the animation and they to have some life – this location is able to bring all that.”
Although his company builds throughout the city and GTA, Menkes says North York remains a priority. There are three more projects on the boards for the area, and more if developable land is available.
“We wanted to make this commitment to North York and stuck to our guns. We’ve had a couple of interruptions with recessions, but this area has really performed the best in terms of valuation over the last 20 years,” says Menkes.
“The 401 is not going anywhere, the subway is not going anywhere and now it’s being expanded farther north along Yonge St. I think the area has the bones to survive for many, many years to come and that’s why we want to continue to build here.”
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At $30 Million, the “West Penthouse” of Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Toronto is the most expensive condo in Canada
Bay-Yorkville Developments Ltd. released the penthouse at Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Toronto for sale today. Priced at $30 million, this exclusive residence is the most expensive condominium in Canada.
Located at the northeast corner of Bay Street and Yorkville Avenue, Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Toronto is a landmark mixed-use development featuring a world class hotel and over 200 private residences in two 55 and 26-storey towers.
The penthouse residence will occupy the top floor of the 55-storey West Residence building and encompass 9,038 sq. ft. of living space. Included in the price is a 680 sq. ft. Staff Residence. Located in the adjacent, 26-storey East Residence building, the Staff Residence will provide owners with the convenience of separate, private quarters for household staff located on-site.
“This is truly a one-of-a-kind offering,” said Alan Menkes, President of the High-Rise Residential Division of Menkes Developments, the Managing Partner of the project. “When you step off the elevator directly into the floor-to-ceiling glass galleria, you’ll immediately see why this Penthouse is so spectacular. It will feel like an exquisite mansion in the sky, with more than 9,000 sq. ft. of living space and incredible views of downtown Toronto and Lake Ontario from four private terraces.”
Created by Gluckstein Design Planning, Canada’s pre-eminent residential interior design firm, the West Penthouse plan has been conceived with the ultimate super luxury buyer in mind. Highlights of the residence include:
- A spectacular array of rooms featuring 12 ft. ceilings, including a stunning floor-to-ceiling glass Galleria and four expansive corner terraces;
- An opulent, 2,500 sq. ft. Master Suite featuring a large bedroom complete with a sitting room and fireplace, a private terrace, two walk-in closets and a lavish ensuite bathroom, with his-and-hers vanities, showers and water closet enclosures, built-in TVs behind the vanity mirrors, and a freestanding tub opposite an impressive stone fireplace;
- A gracious 1,000 sq. ft. living room with a walk out terrace, a library and a separate study;
- A spacious family room combined with an open-concept entertaining kitchen, with a large island and three refrigerator/freezer units, two wall ovens, a dishwasher, integrated coffee system, food warming drawer and a gas range;
- A 550 sq. ft. formal dining room and a servery connected to a walk out terrace;
- A theatre room with a bar featuring a refrigerator and bar sink;
- A walk-in wine cellar with a sealed glass-paneled door, built-in cooling unit, and a redwood racking system to accommodate nearly 800 bottles; and,
- Two guest bedrooms, each with its own ensuite bathroom.
“When I designed the West Penthouse, I had a vision of classic elegance,” said Brian Gluckstein of Gluckstein Design Planning. “In the foyer, I chose handsome grey marble floors and added a bold circular pattern which gives the space a bit of drama. There are sleek custom Downsview cabinets in the kitchen, in a dark stain, paired with comfortable seating in muted neutrals for timeless appeal.”
“The master bedroom has light streaming in through the corner windows, so I went with light wood floors and white fabrics. This combination gives the room a light, airy feel even on the darkest winter days,” he added.
Designed by architectsAlliance, Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Toronto will feature two sleek glass towers. The West Residence will be a 55-storey building comprised of the 253-room Four Seasons Hotel on the first 20 floors, followed by 101 Private Residences above. The 26-storey East Residences will contain 103 Private Residences and be connected to its sister building by an elevated pedestrian bridge. Both towers which will share a courtyard designed by internationally-renowned landscape architect Claude Cormier.
Owners of the Private Residences, including the West Penthouse, will enjoy access to all the amenities of the new Four Seasons Hotel, including 24-hour concierge, doorman and valet service, an on-site restaurant and bar, in-residence dining, housekeeping, and the Four Seasons Spa. The 28,000 sq. ft. spa will feature a sky-lit indoor lap pool, whirlpools, private treatment rooms and a state-of-the-art fitness club. Award-winning interior design house Yabu Pushelberg designed the spa, as well as the Hotel rooms, common areas and ballroom/conference facilities.
Construction on Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences Toronto is underway and the project is slated for completion in late 2011. The developer is Bay-Yorkville Developments Ltd., a joint venture between Menkes Developments Ltd., Lifetime Urban Development Group, and Alcion Ventures. Menkes Construction Ltd. is building both the hotel and residences.
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