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Toronto Loft Conversions

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Modern Toronto Lofts

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Unique Toronto Homes

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Condos in Toronto

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Toronto Real Estate

Toronto Real Estate

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West Don Lands

On your mark, get set for Pan Am Games

Ryan Starr –

Amid the hoopla surrounding Toronto’s winning of the 2015 Pan Am Games last November, it’s safe to assume few people were as jazzed as John Campbell, Waterfront Toronto’s chief executive.

After all, winning the Games bid is a major catalyst for his group’s plans for redevelopment of the West Don Lands, a 32-hectare post-industrial site that runs from Parliament St. in the west to the Don River, and from King St. down to the rail corridor.

“The Pan Am Games provides a huge acceleration of development for the area,” says Campbell. “It will move the whole thing forward.”

In terms of real estate, the Games win means that construction of 6,000 condominiums and townhomes in the West Don Lands will now be put on a fast track.

The community will be the future site of a new $1 billion athletes’ village, to be built adjacent to the Don River along an extension of Front St. The village, a mix of midrise buildings and townhomes, will consist of 2,100 residential units to house the 8,500 competitors, coaches and officials expected to descend on Toronto in July 2015.

Following the Games, these residential units will be converted into one-, two- and three-bedroom condos, as well as mixed-income apartments, providing accommodation for approximately 4,000 people.

If not for the Games, Campbell says, the pace of redevelopment at the West Don Lands would have been dependent on market conditions and, as such, considerably slower.

“We were limited by the rate of absorption of new units,” he explains, estimating that in an average year the Toronto real estate market can absorb about 12,000 residential units, approximately 30% of which would be in the downtown Toronto area.

In the case of the waterfront, this works out to around 300 to 500 homes a year, figures Campbell, a former executive with Brookfield Properties.

“At that rate, the West Don Lands would have taken us 10 to 12 years to do,” he says.

Critics have suggested the acceleration of these redevelopment plans could have negative consequences, with quality of construction sacrificed for the sake of expediency.

Campbell dismisses this notion, pointing out his group already has a head start at the West Don Lands.

Zoning is in place and site preparation is underway, including soil and groundwater remediation, as well as work on infrastructure such as roads and sewers. Construction is also in progress on a $60-million berm to protect the area from flooding.

“The beauty of having the athletes’ village in the West Don Lands is that we’re not starting from scratch – we’re already at year three,” says Campbell.

“I think that was one of the strengths of our bid down in Guadalajara (Mexico, site of the Pan Am Games host city selection),. When the evaluation committee came up here in August they saw we were underway.

“Plus, we’re not changing the design (of the West Don Lands),” he adds. “We have a plan that the community has embraced, that council has approved, and that’s what is going to get built.

“So rather than build a village for athletes and figure out what to do with it afterward, we’re building a village for the city and we’re going to use it temporarily for the athletes.”

West Don Lands

West Don Lands

Affordable housing

In the wake of Toronto’s Pan Am Games win, considerable attention was paid to the affordable housing that will be built in the West Don Lands.

The waterfront redevelopment master plan calls for 20% of the housing there to be affordable rental, or what’s known as rent-geared-to-income housing, where a tenant’s rent does not exceed 30% of his or her income.

Another 5% of the stock is to be low-end-of-market housing; homes that are purchased from developers and priced at the lower end of the spectrum.

Of the 6,000 condominiums and townhouses that will ultimately be built in the West Don Lands, around 1,250 units will be some form of affordable or subsidized housing.

Waterfront Toronto has also partnered with Toronto Community Housing Corp. to develop a 250-unit affordable housing project at the corner of St. Lawrence and King Sts.

The idea of “affordable” housing has made for plenty of feel-good news reports, but what does it actually mean?

Waterfront Toronto defines affordable as housing that is 100% of average rents in the city as calculated by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC).

In October 2009, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom rental condominium apartment in the centre of Toronto was $1,296; a two-bedroom unit averaged $1,789 a month, according to the latest CMHC Rental Market Report.

“We’re building a community where everyone has a chance to live, as opposed to having to commute from 50 miles away to go work in the city, which, in the long term, is not sustainable,” Campbell says.

“We’re trying to avoid what happens on a lot of waterfronts, where you get narrow demographic enclaves of certain age groups and certain income groups.”

Still, it’s not clear whether the inclusion of affordable/subsidized housing will have a negative impact on sales of market-rate condos at the West Don Lands.

David Wex, the developer of River City – the first residential community to be built in the area – says the buzz surrounding the Pan Am Games has certainly boosted interest from buyers in his project.

While River City won’t be located adjacent to the athletes’ village – which will be built in the southern portion of the West Don Lands – “we’ve had a lot of questions about what the Games will mean for our purchasers,” says Wex, a partner with Urban Capital Property Group.

Waterfront Toronto’s plan calls for the affordable housing buildings to be mixed in with market-rate buildings. Campbell calls this “checker-boarding,” the idea being that if you didn’t know the subsidized units existed, you might not notice them.

“Once we explain it, buyers understand its place in the overall vision for the neighbourhood,” says Wex.

Waterfront Toronto intends for the affordable housing to be targeted at younger folks and seniors, as well as so-called “key workers” – municipal employees, nurses, firefighters and others seen as vital to the operation of the city but who might otherwise not be able to afford real estate in the West Don Lands.

Campbell notes that in some U.S. cities – Minneapolis, for example – there are laws that mandate a certain portion of affordable housing be included in new developments, with the subsidized units blended in with the market-rate stock

But he has doubts whether this type of approach would work at the West Don Lands.

“It would be a challenge,” Campbell says.

“I’m not sure how we’d mix them into the buildings. Because that’s not mandated legally (in Toronto), there are questions as to whether it would be acceptable in this marketplace.”

Regardless of how the affordable housing is ultimately incorporated into the West Don Lands buildings, though, Campbell says construction plans are on track and that his team will have everything completed in time to host the world in five years.

“We want to have the athletes’ village built by December 2014 or very early 2015,” he says.

“So we haven’t got bags of time left, but there’s time to make the right decisions and do things properly.”


Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information  –  416-388-1960


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