Build Toronto looks toward TTC HQ

Project would see commuter lot turned into offices

With its prime directive of turning underused city land into cash, newly formed Build Toronto is set to kick off one of its first major projects in the York Mills Valley area.

The project aims to construct a seven-storey, 41,800-square-metre office building over a commuter parking lot on the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Wilson Avenue. The project has received a lot of attention recently because the primary contender for lead tenant is the TTC, which has tentative plans to move its headquarters to the new building.

The idea has been harshly criticized in recent weeks by mayoral candidate George Smitherman, who sent a letter to councillors urging them to stand against the proposal.

“I find it impossible to believe that the construction of a shiny new corporate headquarters should be a priority,” he wrote in the May 5 letter.

But according to Build Toronto CEO Lorne Braithwaite, the building would be built anyway, and says there is competition from other organizations for lead tenancy.

“We do have two other major (possible) tenants that have expressed interest in the site,” Braithwaite said. “But we’ve been chatting with the TTC for close to five months.”

But it’s not set in stone. With a mandate focused on generating income for the city, Build Toronto may be forced to go with a better offer in the end, should one be on the table.

“That’s part of our role and responsibility as the developer of the site,” he said. “We will have to sort it out at the time if, in fact, that happens. It would be a nice problem to have from the prospective of Build Toronto.”

The building is at least a year away from construction as it awaits amendment of the North York official plan that will allow for the seven-storey height — 3.3 metres above the current allowance.

Braithwaite is confident that the project is rolling along. He’s pushing to have a community consultation process begin as early as June.

The meeting will see planners and architects present rough plans to the public for feedback, which he said will affect the final result.
One issue expected to be brought up is the discussion of secondary tenants, who will occupy about 10 percent of the building.

So far the plan according to Build Toronto is to include several services the community can use, including at least two restaurants — a high-end place and a cafeteria-style eatery — as well as a coffee shop and print shop.

Then there’s the issue of the loss of the commuter parking lot. Currently the lot often full, but Braithwaite suggests that only about half of the lot’s users are actual commuters.

“About 50 percent of the users are actually people that work in the building across the street,” Braithwaite said. “Because of pricing issues, the parking garage across the street isn’t full but the commuter parking lot is full.”

The plan at this stage is to allow current commuters to use the new building’s parking. York Mills Centre workers who currently use the free commuter lot will be out of luck.

Other planned projects

Four project were identified as priorities at the May 12 launch of Build Toronto. Here are the other three.

a) A 218,500 square metre open space surrounding Downsview Station will be developed into a mixed-use subdivision that may include 3,000 units of high and low-rise housing in the southern portion, and commercial office and retail towers clustered around the station. Included in Build Toronto’s broad mandate are social and city building requirements that will ensure a portion of the housing here is low- and medium-income units.

b) A 97,000 square metre industrial lot at Islington Avenue and Lakeshore Boulevard West is slated for commercial development.

c) A 32,500 square metre development at 154 Front St. East (at Sherbourne Street).

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By: Christopher Reynolds
Posted: Jun 8 2010 11:41 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto