Small developer makes an impact in the downtown east side
Tracy Hanes – Toronto Star
As Jeanhy Shim describes it, Streetcar Developments “is a small developer doing a lot of big things.”
That’s no idle boast: in just eight years, the little real estate development company has completed six condo buildings in the east downtown and currently has five under construction, with two more starting in the fall.
Its success has been achieved quietly and thoughtfully under its 37-year-old CEO, Les Mallins, a former chartered accountant who lives in the neighbourhood where he builds; half a dozen Streetcar projects are within a stone’s throw of each other, as well as the company’s Queen St. E. headquarters.
“The east end is our neighbourhood,” says Shim, the former president of Urbanation and a real estate consultant, who recently joined Streetcar as sales and marketing manager. The company (which has partnered with Dundee Realty Corp.) has set itself apart from the Toronto highrise crowd by focusing on smaller, infill-type projects in the east end, serviced by the streetcar.
“Boutique condo development, particularly midrise, that’s our niche,”says Shim. “Our buildings are six to eight storeys with less than 100 units, which make them more intimate.”
And because the buildings are smaller, they tend to take 18 months to build, less time than highrises, and get registered quickly.
Streetcar started eight years ago with Academy Lane Lofts, which came about after Mallins bought a century-old bowling alley near Woodbine Ave. and transformed it into residential condos. Subsequent projects have included Beach House Lofts, 952 Kingston Modern Beach Lofts, Riverside Lofts, Queen City Vinegar Co. Lofts and Edge Lofts (“A hot little building,” reports Shim.)
“Les is a great visionary and has a good eye for building design. He is very careful in working with the neighbours to make sure the projects enhance the neighbourhood,” says Shim. “He personally feels proud of all the buildings he’s done.”
Streetcar has helped to rejuvenate Queen east of the Don Valley and its Trinity Lofts will likely do the same for its Eastern Ave. neighbourhood just west across the DVP.
“What’s neat about people buying here is they understand the opportunity. There are already a lot more people living here and it’s becoming more and more attractive,” says Shim. “They are mostly younger, first-time buyers who don’t want to live in a highrise in the middle of the city. And they are priced well compared to the west side of the city.
“People are really attracted to small buildings and our amenity is the neighbourhood.”
She points out that units in small buildings tend to have excellent resale returns, as there are relatively few of them. “For instance, at our Vinegar Co. Lofts, resale units tend to get snapped up quickly.”
Streetcar has been running a series of education seminars for prospective buyers and real estate agents to “educate them on the exciting changes happening in the east of the city,” says Shim. “We have invested so heavily in this area of the city because we believe that this is the next up-and-coming area of the city, and we want our prospective buyers to understand the opportunity as well. Our seminars explain in detail the changes that Waterfront Toronto is planning for the West Don Lands, East Bayfront and Lower Don Lands, in particular.”
The seminars also cover details on the “legal nuts and bolts” of buying pre-construction such as reviewing the agreement of purchase and sale in detail and explaining what all the schedules and addendums are for. “We also explain the Condominium Act, disclosure statement, Tarion warranty, and other consumer protections that are built into each agreement,” says Shim. “We also include a review of general market conditions, including interest rates, employment, population growth, rental vacancy rates, etc. in order to help put the condominium market into perspective.”
Shim says buyers who see the potential of the area evolving around Trinity Lofts are getting in at the ideal time. The project will offer 81 lofts and two townhouses in a curvilinear eight-storey building at 2 Eastern Ave. within one minute walking distance of the Distillery District and 10 minutes to the St. Lawrence Market. It will be just north of the West Don Lands and the slated Pan Am Village, housing athletes participating in the 2015 Pan American Games.
“Don River Park will be ready in 2012 when our building will be ready and the new Pan Am Village makes it even more exciting,” says Shim. There’s a definite timetable, it’s going to happen and it will fill in the piece between downtown and Leslieville. It’s a great fit.
“What’s neat about Trinity, too, is that it’s behind a historic police station.”
As well as first-time buyers, the project is attracting move-up buyers.
“We’re particularly excited about Trinity, as it was more than 50% sold within two weeks of its launch,” says Shim.
The model suite at 625 Queen St. E. has been created by Seven Haus Design. “They really get Streetcar and interpreted loft style,” says Shim of the space, which boasts expansive windows, open-concept layout and polished concrete floors.
Units are still available at Corktown District and Sync.
Corktown District is comprised of four properties that were close enough to each other that Streetcar combined into one community to share amenities, management and architectural style; Phase 1 includes three loft buildings (some with urban townhouses) at 569 King St. E., 549 King St. E. and 52 Sumach. Phase 2 at 510 King E. is selling now and is a warehouse-style building of charcoal brick with punch-out balconies.
Sync, launched in February, is eight storeys with 98 units. It’s more than 80% sold. Streetcar capitalized on the high tech angle of its name, offering features such as suites with iPod docking stations wired to speakers throughout the suites pre-wired WiFi and free high definition TV, Internet and digital phone service for a year.
“All of our buildings have vehicle share programs, so a lot of our buyers don’t own a car,”says Shim.
Streetcar buildings tend to have modern architecture and quality finishes, such as hardwood floors, locally manufactured kitchens, stone countertops, stainless steel Energy Star appliances and nine or 10-foot ceilings. Some have interior bedrooms with sliding frosted glass doors and closets have double-hung clothes racks; all buildings have green roofs.
Streetcar ventured from its King East neighbourhood to trendy Queen West for Two Gladstone, directly across from the Gladstone Hotel, which will have 54 units in eight storeys.
“It will have 54 units and there are a few left,”says Shim. “It’s under construction. There are larger condo buildings in the area but what people loved about our building is that it is small and intimate. We’ve taken cues from the Gladstone Hotel and incorporated them into the architecture.”
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