For more than a decade the 13.5-acre property at the southwest corner of Cherry St. and Lake Shore Blvd. has sat lifeless, a desolate site with great potential but trapped in a state of real estate limbo.
The land was owned by Home Depot, which had long been battling vehement public opposition to its plans to put a big box store there.
Last October, Home Depot finally gave up the fight. The company sold the property to 3C Lakeshore Inc., a development consortium that includes Toronto’s Cityzen Development Group and Castlepoint Realty Partners, and Continental Ventures Realty, a New York City developer.
Castlepoint president Alfredo Romano had been among the fiercest opponents of the Home Depot plan. “We led the charge,” he recalls in an interview.
Romano’s company owns five acres adjacent to the former Home Depot site. “We basically told Home Depot, it’s not like we have anything against your store, but we do have something against suburban built-form on the waterfront. We have a better use in mind.”
3C Lakeshore’s plan, which Romano says is the largest development project in downtown Toronto, calls for a mixed-use community that will include a hotel, retail, offices and about 2,000 condos. There will be 400,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.
The community will have buildings ranging in size from eight to 15 storeys, with taller towers possible on portions of the property.
The aim is to create a “friendly civic experience,” Jane Gol, a partner with Continental Ventures, explains over the phone from Manhattan. “We want it to be a neighbourhood and an opportunity for families to stay in the city.
“We think there’s a great desire for pedestrian-oriented, friendly places. People like to live in them, and if they’re near the water, people like it even more.”
The project is still in its early design stages, but 3C Lakeshore hopes to break ground by 2013. “We’re not here to take the slow road,” says Romano, estimating it could take up to 10 years to complete the project. “We want this to happen as quickly as it possibly can.”
The 3C Lakeshore site at Cherry and Lake Shore feels isolated at the moment, cut off from the rest of the city by the Gardiner Expressway. But the neighbourhood is part of a new centre of gravity developing along the east waterfront.
Just to the west of the site, at the foot of Lower Sherbourne, the Great Gulf Group of Companies is building the first private-sector development in Waterfront Toronto’s new East Bayfront community. Mondial Condos, a 500-unit project designed by renowned Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, is scheduled to be completed in 2015.
South of Queens Quay, between Sherbourne and Parliament, international builder Hines will be developing the other major parcel in East Bayfront. The project will include 1,700 condos and 2 million square feet of residential and commercial development space.
“All of a sudden all the major developers have discovered this neighbourhood,” says Cityzen president Sam Crignano. “And the others are all here scouting. I know the boys from Concord Pacific are looking for sites, so is everyone else. They’ve discovered Toronto East, and it’s on fire.”
3C Lakeshore isn’t Cityzen’s first foray on the waterfront: they’ve partnered with Fernbrook Homes to build Pier 27, a 303-unit project on Queens Quay, just east of Yonge.
That project marks the start of the east waterfront, which also includes two parks, Sherbourne Common and Sugar Beach, as well as Corus Quay and the George Brown College waterfront campus, which will bring an estimated 3,500 full-time students to the area.
The Gardiner Expressway is a formidable barrier for the future 3C community at Cherry and Lake Shore — both physically and psychologically — but Crignano is quick to stress the area is not cut off from the rest of the city. The Distillery District and St. Lawrence neighbourhoods are directly north of the site, he notes.
“And we’re less than half the distance from King and Bay than Liberty Village,” Romano adds.
Earlier this year the 3C Lakeshore team announced it had selected London-based Foster + Partners to serve as lead architect on the waterfront project.
Foster designed the iconic Swiss Re Tower in London (a.k.a. “the gherkin”), Beijing Airport Terminal 3 and, closer to home, the Leslie Dan pharmacy building at the University of Toronto.
The U.K. firm will be working with local architects Peter Clewes of architectsAlliance and Bruce Kuwabara of KPMB. Landscape architect Claude Cormier is also on the design team.
“What’s that saying, the sum is greater than the whole of its parts?” says Crignano. “That’s what we’re hoping will happen here.”
Tapping international talent to design local projects is nothing new for the 3C developers.
Cityzen hired Yansong Ma of China’s MAD Studios to create Absolute World in Mississauga. Better known as the “Marilyn Monroe Tower” — owing to its curvaceous shape — the condo quickly became a worldwide sensation.
And Castlepoint tapped global star architect Daniel Libeskind to design the L Tower project at Yonge and Front (which it partnered with Cityzen and Fernbrook to build).
It costs a pretty penny to retain the services of top international architects, but Crignano insists it pays off. “We’ve proven to our peers that design sells, and sells to the point where we fetched a premium in the marketplace.”
Now, with Norman Foster on board for the 3C Lakeshore project, the partners believe they’ve scored another victory for great design. “You’ve heard what’s important in real estate: location, location, location,” Romano says. “Well we’ve changed that. Now it’s location, location, design.”
New York loves Toronto
3C Lakeshore represents the first venture north of the border for Continental Ventures Realty, a New York-based developer of commercial and residential real estate.
Continental partner Jane Gol, formerly with the New York City Planning Commission, says Toronto was an attractive proposition.
“We were looking to diversify our portfolio in a new area and this seemed the perfect opportunity for us. Toronto is considered one of the top cultural and financial centres in the world.
“And it’s home to many of the qualities we see in New York — the type of living and waterfront revitalization,” adds Gol, who has been involved in waterfront transformation projects on Manhattan’s west side.
The stability and strength of Toronto’s real estate market made coming north irresistible. “Your market stayed stable and returned very quickly, and we were impressed,” Gol says. “We see a lot of growth potential there.”