Is The Plan For Honest Ed’s Really That “Honest?”

HonestEdExterior

Westbank revealed their vision for the redevelopment of the land at Bloor & Bathurst last week, and while it looks pretty good on paper, I wonder how much of that proposal will change as time goes on, and residents of the area let their guards down.

Urbancorp’s “snatcheroo” of its flock of condos on King’s Club last month showed us just what some developers are capable of.  And we’ve all been following the saga of the Mirvish-Gehry project that just won’t take “no” for an answer, and will eventually give us 80-storey towers at King & John.

So when I see this golly-gee, feel-good plan for development at the current site of Honest’ Ed’s, I just don’t know if I believe it.  After all, there’s nothing to stop a developer from changing course once the wrecking ball starts to swing…

HonestEdExterior

“It could always be worse!”

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but that’s one of my most-hated sayings, as it really doesn’t offer any value to conversation.

Anything could be worse.  What’s worse than, say, dying?  I dunno, being tortured first…

Somebody in my office the other day remarked, “It could always be worse” with respect to the proposed redevelopment of Honest Ed’s, and I said, “Is that really what we’re striving for in Toronto these days?  To just not have the worst possible outcome?”

It’s pretty sad if that’s the case, but it seems as though a lot of Torontonians simply assumed that when Honest Ed’s was sold last year, that the site would be the home of a new monster condominium.  I know this is what I thought.  In fact, I assumed it was just a given.

Land is the most valuable commodity in our rapidly shrinking city, as Toronto becomes more and more dense.  And the 1.8 hectare parcel of land on which Honest Ed’s sits could probably house several thousand condominium units, if a developer wanted to go that route.

So when the developer of the site, a firm called Westbank, revealed plans last week that showed the largest tower to be built would only be 29-storeys, I think a lot of Torontonians were pleasantly surprised.

I’ve made no bones about my displeasure and disapproval of what David Mirvish and Frank Gehry are trying to do at King & John, where three towers of 80+ storeys are slated for construction, in an area where 3-storey buildings line the streets, and the largest condo towers on that block are barely half the size.

In fact, when I saw the wood-block model for Honest Ed’s last week, it was eerily reminiscent of the one created for the Mirvish-Gehry project.

Here’s the model for Honest Ed’s:

HonestEds

And here’s the model for the Mirvish-Gehry project on King Street:

MirvishBlock

Okay, so maybe they just got a great deal on wooden blocks.

But my disdain for the Mirvish-Gehry project has me so on edge that when I see the rendering of the Honest Ed’s project, I start to get nervous.  And part of the reason is because I actually really like the proposal.

When you’re redeveloping 1.8 hectares, you’re never going to please everybody.

I feel as though one thing we Torontonians are quite good at is complaining, and there will be no shortage of complaints about the redevelopment at Honest Ed’s.

Now some people simply think that the existing buildings should remain, that the area shouldn’t change, that the city should try to keep the neighbourhood in touch with its roots, etc.  But that’s naive thinking to be quite honest, as it would ignore everything going on around us, and the “long time” residents of Bloor & Bathurst shouldn’t think that progress will simply pass this area by.

On the other end of the extreme, you have people like me who assumed 70-storey towers were coming to the area, so I’m happy with anything shy of that!  Call me naive to think you could put 70-storey towers on that site, but I don’t see the City of Toronto ever saying “no” to a developer as long as those juicy development fees keep rolling in, and with no real “grand plan” for the city, the developers have free reign.

So working backwards from that 29-storey tower, which will be the largest on site, what else was proposed that has people like me rather pleased?

  • The other two towers are planned to be only 22 and 21 storeys.
  • “Mirvish Village Market” which is a one or two storey, glass-roofed building
  • 1,000 rental units, many of which are “family size”
  • No condominiums
  • Pedestrian-only laneway home to retail shops
  • Houses and small commercial buildings on Markham Street remain in tact

One of the coolest things about the development proposal, in my opinion, is the vision for Markham Street, which is currently home to restaurants, shops,  and has that very quaint, “walkable” vibe to it.  Here’s the rendering for the street:

Markham Street

I’ve been to “Southern Accent” about a dozen times before, although not in the past five years or so.  I think that might have been the “boys place” when we were a bit younger, now that I think about it…

But I’ve always admired that street, as it has that “some place else” kind of feel to it.  You don’t feel like you’re in downtown Toronto, and the plan for the redevelopment seeks to keep this feeling in tact, while eliminating vehicle traffic, and extending the sidewalks 11-metres to provide patio space for the restaurants.

True – I am a proponent of the automobile here in Toronto, and maybe the last person you might think would propose car-free zones of the city.  But our city lacks those quaint pedestrian markets that other notable cities across the world are known for, and perhaps Mirvish Village could become a destination for both residents and travelers.

The word “quaint” isn’t used frequently to describe areas of our city, and we don’t have the history, character, and charm of European cities that date back hundreds, or thousands of years.

So it’s nice to see a development that doesn’t simply seek to maximize profitability by constructing 5,000 tiny 400 square foot condos that will be sold to overseas investors and moronic residents of the city who line up overnight to get into the VIP sales centre.

Is it possible that the folks behind this massive redevelopment and turning point in Toronto’s west end are more concerned with the legacy of the project than the dollars it could bring in?

And that is where I start to get worried.

As I said at the onset, I don’t know how “honest” this plan for Honest Ed’s really is.

Developers change course all the time, and my fear is that the plan put in place last week is simply a starting point, and it was an attempt to appease the toughest critics and opponents of the project, before giving way to a more aggressive plan as dissent dies down.

I’ll say this right now – I’ll be positively shocked if the current proposal is what we gaze upon fifteen years from now while standing at the corner of Bathurst & Bloor.

It all seems, just a little too good to be true.

Toronto Star real estate critic, Christopher Hume, seems to like the idea.  Read his column on the development HERE.

And having read through about 60-some-odd comments on last week’s article in the Globe & Mail, I’d estimate that about 30 of the comments were positive, 20 were neutral, and I only saw about 10 that I’d say were negative.  This is pretty amazing, considering how negative a society we’ve become!

The major drawback from my view is a decade of insane construction and traffic congestion, but I think we’re almost at the point in Toronto where we simply expect it.

Other people have commented that it would be nice if there was less glass and more brick (what else is new!) in the design and construction, that there isn’t enough public transportation to service the project, that the area lacks green space (what area doesn’t?), and that perhaps the would-be retailers might not be able to afford to rent the spaces once this project is finished.

But from where I stand, the project looks great, on a relative basis at least, to everything else being built in Toronto right now.

One of my favourite comments on the Globe & Mail article:

Comment

At least people haven’t lost their sense of sarcasm!

I’ll be very interested to see how this project plays out through the rest of the year and into 2016 when things should really ramp up, and of course, what changes are brought about once the developer makes a formal application to the City of Toronto…

15 Comments

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  1. Philip says:

    In response to the question of whether any developer involved the community in the early stages – I am co presidents of the south pert and sterling road residents group – they involved us within several weeks of buying the 8 acres of land that we as residents were able to shape what we wanted – it has so far been a 6 year process but Castlepoint Developments has been that builder that seems genuine in wanting to deliver a legay neighbourhood that will be less residential than any developers typical position would have been.
    We as a community participated in a visioning project to get all stakeholders to help come up with a final view of what will be delivered to us – I believe that we have developed a great plan that will enliven the south junction neighbourhood and we were lucky to have Castlepoint be the developer !

  2. Kyle says:

    Time will tell whether the finish product bears any resemblance to the concept, but the economics are finally in place for this sort of thing to happen. There are a lot more purpose-built rentals being proposed and built now, due to high demand and low supply of professionally managed new units, as well rent controls don’t apply to the new buildings. Given how low the vacancy rate is and how expensive it is to own downtown, this really makes a lot of sense. In a few years the condo crowd will start needing more space but will not be able to afford the $1M+ required to own a home in the core. This gives them an attractive option when compared to commuting. It also makes economic sense for a developer to invest in the communities around their rental apartments to command the highest rent.

  3. Chroscklh says:

    I like this plan, is good one. I hope no switch to glass prison cell in sky. As investor in condo for to rent, I get feel nerves about purpose-built luxury rental. If I renter again, I wud prefer rent from professional company, not jerkoff baystreet guy who change mind and sell in 18 mth. Also, this honest ed too honest. I meet once, he tell me get better haircut, wear less gold. I say “I customer man, what give?” he say “what say over door buddy – ‘compliment eds’?”

  4. EFG says:

    Comment

  5. BillyO says:

    David, are you really comparing Westbank to Urbancorp?

    Also, Mirvish-Gehry will be two towers now, not three.

    1. @ BillyO

      No, I’m not comparing Westbank to Urbancorp, but rather suggesting that developers in the province of Ontario, where the Condominium Act is almost twenty years old with no revisions, have free reign to do as they please, and we’ll never know what will be built until the final stake is in the ground.

  6. Teegee says:

    http://westbankcorp.com

    Does this really look like a company that is willing to risk their reputation and pull some urbancorp crap? No.

    Are there other developers in this city who have taken unprecedented steps to involve community this early in the process? No.

    Will the project change? Of course. There will be tweaks. There is a real potential for place making and city building here. The best possible outcome of this would be if other Toronto developers started taking the lead here.

    1. Boris says:

      Yes, the font on the website is clearly reminiscent of someone who is honest.

      Wait, what? Are you telling people here that they won;t deviate from the plan because you like their website?

      I re read your comment 4 times. Ummm what? Are you high?

  7. Brent Wilkins says:

    Also curious about the end of Zoocasa sold prices. Also David would it be possible for you to post what properties in your pick 5 features actually sold for?

  8. Meh says:

    If the towers aren’t residential (apart from the rentals) what will the focus be, office space or …. ??

  9. MJ says:

    I guess the bar is so low that anything that exceeds those low expectations is great.

    David, what are your thoughts on zoocasa ending displaying the sold prices?

    1. @ MJ

      They’re playing ball. For now.

      The Competition Bureau and TREB are in court in May, and TREB can’t be made to look the fool by having its members disregard the rules, so they had no choice but to threaten to take away access to MLS.

      Make no mistake – the “ban” on giving out sold prices WILL end. The public wants the information, and Realtors want to give it to them. But how to get to that point will need to be ironed out over the next year.

  10. Kyle says:

    In the wooden model there are more trees on the buildings then in the surrounding residential neighbourhoods. We all know that won’t happen in the final version.

  11. Appraiser says:

    Almost anything would be an improvement from the original Honest EDS hokey bargain-basement carnival evoked by your first photo. Good riddance.

  12. Marina says:

    I’m cautiously optimistic because this development really does have “legacy” potential. So maybe it will stay relatively true to plan…

    I would love a pedestrian area in Toronto.

    Then again, I would not be shocked if the 29 story tower s a typo for 92 stories, and then the developer claims that a parking lot is plenty pedestrian.

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