As published on Toronto Star December 8, 2014.
The Art Shoppe has been something of an institution in Toronto’s Yonge St.-Eglinton Ave. neighbourhood for decades.
Its longevity notwithstanding, however, the monolithic, brutalist concrete building that occupies the entire block of Yonge, between Soudan and Hillsdale Aves., has done little to enhance street life along this stretch through the years, with no front entrance and showcase windows featuring furniture.
“It’s quite cold, and it doesn’t invite people in,” says Todd Cowan, a principal with CD Capital Developments, the firm partnering with Freed Developments to redevelop the Art Shoppe site into a mixed-use, condo project. Plans include a 28-storey tower on the north side of the property, stepping down to a 12-storey midrise on the south side, and six storeys on the eastern side. Unit sizes are planned to be bachelor, one- and two-bedroom suites with prices starting in the $200,000s.
The development, dubbed Art Shoppe Condos and Lofts in a nod to the site’s outgoing occupant (the venerable furniture store will be moving to a new location) includes a 12,000-square-foot linear park along its eastern side, connecting Soudan to Hillsdale and providing a buffer with the existing neighbourhood.
The project, at 2131 Yonge St. and now in pre-registration phase with tentative occupancy for 2019, will also have two floors of retail at its base, with lifestyle-focused shops and services, restaurants and cafes, and potentially a grocery store.
“We’re taking the opportunity here to really connect the project to the neighbourhood by bringing the street to life and animating it,” Cowan explains. “We think this will bring more people and encourage the flow of pedestrian traffic along this part of Yonge.”
“It’s rare you have an opportunity where you have such a deep, full-block site (in the Yonge-Eglinton area) where you can create something special,” he adds, noting that Art Shoppe condos will serve as a catalyst for future development farther south on Yonge toward Davisville Ave.
The project’s marketing tagline is “the art of change,” a play on the name of the old furniture store; it’s also a reflection of the development team’s firm belief that projects like these empower them to be true agents of urban transformation.
“Developers, architects and designers are the artists of cities,” Cowan says. “Great buildings make great cities, so our philosophy here is that we want to build something for the city that’s going to make a lasting impression.”
Art Shoppe condos is only the latest project in the Yonge-Eglinton area, a part of Toronto that was late to the condo party but has in recent years become a development hotbed. “Yonge and Eglinton remained largely unchanged for a long, long time,” notes Peter Freed, who grew up in the area.
“But with the city growing so much, it was time to evolve.”
That evolution has been spurred in large part by the new Eglinton Crosstown LRT line, which when complete in several years will make the intersection one of the most significant transit hubs in the city, at the nexus of two major lines — a new Yonge and Bloor.
“The LRT was a huge reason for us to invest in Yonge-Eglinton,” says Jordan Demers, Cowan’s CD Capital partner. “And with the city bringing more traffic onto the Yonge line within the intersection, we feel a huge responsibility to deliver something here that is world class.”
Yonge-Eglinton is a provincially designated growth centre, an area where intensification is being encouraged. But it turns out the Art Shoppe site —despite being located just south of Eglinton, 150 metres from a subway station entrance, and right on Yonge —lies just outside this zone.
It’s the main reason why the condo development faced fierce opposition in an intensive community consultation and city-approvals process that lasted three years.
The original proposal was for two towers, the north one 38 storeys, the south one 29. The community pushed back hard, and the matter went to the Ontario Municipal Board.
The OMB ultimately brokered a settlement that will see the building transition from a more intensified built-form on the site’s north side — the 28-storey tower — to a midrise height and density on the south side that’s in keeping with the traditional main-street scale of the buildings farther south on Yonge.
“The settlement entrenches that stepping down,” notes Gregg Lintern, the City of Toronto director of community planning for Toronto East York, an area which encompasses Yonge-Eglinton. “The site locks in the transition pattern.”
Sales on Art Shoppe are slated to launch early next year.
It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but project architect Peter Clewes, of architectsAlliance, notes the development will bring much-needed change to street life along Yonge, with two floors of commercial space at the base of the building offering the opportunity to create “large destination retail.”
That retail will help enliven Yonge, extend its commercial corridor south of Eglinton, and develop a stronger connection with the mom-and-pop retailers located south of the site toward Davisville, he says.
Most important, Clewes points out, the condo project will transform the block while still preserving the integrity of the surrounding area.
Call it an artfully executed compromise.
“I think the Art Shoppe development is a great example of how to do tricky intensifications on sites that are near growth nodes but then transition into avenues, and how you interface with neighbourhoods,” says Clewes.
Yonge-Eglinton condo party
Art Shoppe condos is the latest new project in the Yonge-Eglinton area that also include:
- E Condos, 8 Eglinton Ave E., by builders Bazis Inc., Metropia Urban Landscapes and RioCan — two towers with cantilevered pool on the 31st floor.
- The Madison, 97 Eglinton Ave. E., by builder Madison Homes. Two-tower project will include a Loblaws.
- 155 Redpath, at 155 Redpath Ave., by Freed Developments and CD Capital Developments — a 36-storey building by Art Shoppe condos’ team.
- 101 Erskine, 101 Erskine Ave., by builders Tridel and Beaux Properties. A 32-storey condo and townhouses.
- 2221 Yonge Condos, 2221 Yonge St. by Tower Hill Development. A Pentagonal tower designed by IM Pei’s son, L.C. (Sandi) Pei.
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