It may sound crazy — or at least contrarian — in the midst of a softening condo market, but U.S. development giant Hines and Canada’s biggest condo builder, Tridel, are about to launch the first phase of a $1.1 billion new community on Toronto’s easterly waterfront.
“We’re bullish on Toronto,” says Hines’ managing director for Canada, Avi Tesciuba, who will unveil detailed plans for the 13-acre Bayside Toronto site Wednesday.
That will include a fall launch of sales for the first residential component, Tridel’s 363-unit Aqualina at Bayside, just the start of what is intended to be a 1,900-unit condo and affordable rental community — and one of the greenest developments in the city — on the lakefront south of easterly Queens Quay.
“For us, this isn’t about timing. It’s about city making. This is 13 acres on the water, minutes from Union Station — it was something just screaming for big ideas,” says Tesciuba.
For decades, a bunch of derelict shipping warehouses and crumbling parking lots have been the only real signs of life on the water’s edge west of the historic Victory Soya Mills silos.
That was also before the bulldozers came in.
Now that the last of the old water’s-edge warehouses have been razed, passersby can finally see what Hines and Tridel executives could picture right from the moment they strolled the sprawling lands — the potential for homes, stores, jobs, cultural attractions, bike paths, a waterfront promenade and, strangely enough, cars, within feet of the water and close to the downtown.
The missing link — development consultant Barry Lyon describes it as the “Achilles heel” — of Bayside Toronto is the lack of transit funding for the East Bayfront LRT which means residents will be served, forever potentially, by buses running out of Union Station.
“The RT is essential to the area becoming a real place, where the car is an accessory rather than a necessity,” says Lyon. “Tie it to the Distillery District and the (PanAm) athletes’ village/West Donlands and you have one dynamic area in the years ahead.”
Tridel is taking lessons learned from its Ten York project to the west — where bigger, 1,350 square-foot condo suites were among the first to sell out (even though they started at close to $1 million) and buyers were rushing, even in the face of a softening condo market, to snap up condos within reach of the water and a walk to downtown.
Aqualina is, at its heart, aimed more at people who will live there, rather than investors looking for a rental asset: Units will range from 560 square feet (starting in the low $300,000s) to just over 2,100 sf (over $2 million.)
Affordable rental housing will eventually be part of Bayside Toronto.
“We’ve spent two years finessing the details and getting it right,” says Tridel vice president Jim Ritchie. “It will be phenomenal.
“What we’ve suffered in the condo market over the last 12 months has had more to do with consumer confidence than anything else because of everyone questioning whether or not this market is overheated.”
That was exacerbated when Ottawa tightened mortgage lending rules last July, pushing many first-time buyers to the sidelines.
But there are signs the market may be turning: Developers who’ve held back on new condo launches say a handful of projects launched in May sold well.
While condo sales have slumped significantly over the last year, prices have flatlined rather than fallen and first-time buyers seem to be looking again, says Shaun Hildebrand, senior vice president of condo market research firm Urbanation. Developers are really competing on prices, he added.
“I think that the market has largely rebalanced itself and is poised for some improvement. The resale market is showing some improvement in sales activity, as well, particularly units priced below $400,000.”
Hines was adamant about one unusual detail for a waterfront site — a new road that will form a U in front of the development.
The idea is more to tolerate the car than encourage it, as a necessary evil that will add life to the new neighbourhood and, most importantly, bring shoppers to its stores. During holidays or special cultural events it will be shut down to cars and form an expansion of the pedestrian promenade along the water’s edge.
Sabrina Wong, Sales Representative, Century 21 Atria Realty Inc.