Malls for Tomorrow’s Toronto – Building the Vertical City that is Toronto

April 2015

Building the Vertical City that is Toronto is about how the growth of high-rise towers in Toronto impacts on the lives of condo residents. We explore what living and operating in a vertical city means for residents as well as for the developers, politicians and planners who make decisions that affect the entire city.

We spoke with Jordan Robins, a Senior Vice President at RioCan, about two of their major mall redevelopments and RioCan’s commitment to Toronto.

Yonge Eglinton Centre and Sheppard Centre are central to redevelopment and intensification in important areas of the city. Both are old malls built for communities that have experienced dramatic changes. These malls no longer service their communities well and are in the middle of major upgrades.

Both malls have direct access to the Yonge Street subway. They are situated in high density areas of the city that have and will continue to experience dramatic growth in high-rise condo buildings.

Both malls are situated at the intersection of two major transit systems.

RioCan is investing over $100 million to redevelop each of these two malls for the future.

The Communities

Yonge and Eglinton was once the place for 20-somethings to live and party until they started moving downtown. Now the area has more families and young professionals. The area has about a dozen condominium buildings currently under construction with more seeking pre-construction approvals.

Yonge and Sheppard is part of North York Centre, otherwise known as the Yonge North Corridor. This area, which was suburban until condo expansion began, is now an urban community of 125+ high-rise condo buildings plus about a dozen more in various stages of development. With an estimated population of over 100,000 along a 2 km stretch of Yonge St., the area continues to build infrastructure to support its fast growing population.

Both areas have seen a dramatic shift towards greater use of transit, primarily subway, as transit and area streetscape have improved.

Today’s Development is the Result of Decisions made Ten Years Ago

Toronto was a vibrant and growing city in the early 2000s. Yet the Ontario Government at the time felt there was a need to better control growth and development.

The Places to Grow Act was enacted in 2005. Its purpose was to allow the Ontario government to plan for growth in a coordinated and strategic way. One aspect of this plan was to avoid urban sprawl by preventing Toronto from expanding beyond its boundaries.

This was soon followed by Growth Plan for the Greater Horseshoe (2006) which set out policies and density targets to encourage revitalization of downtown areas which include North York Centre and Yonge Eglinton. These two areas were designated as high density growth areas. The Official Plan for Toronto was completed in 2006. Soon after there were more localized Secondary Plans and planning studies.

During the following ten years developers learned to adapt to these plans. Fewer opportunities and reduced space existed to create retail space in a growing city. Retailers and developers responded by focusing on core areas of the city. Retailers learned to modify store designs to operate more effectively in an urban setting.

During this time the Ontario Municipal Board became integral at resolving disputes to ensure development is consistent with what is laid out in the various plans approved by the city.

RioCan Grows with Toronto

RioCan is a major player in the development of Toronto. They own and manage Canada’s largest portfolio of shopping centres among their 340 retail properties. Ten years ago RioCan made a decision to focus on the six largest markets in Canada. Their approach was to redevelop and intensify their existing urban properties. This change in strategy was consistent with Toronto’s Official Plan which encouraged intensification and growth when the market warranted it.

RioCan’s first redevelopment was at Avenue Road and Lawrence Ave – a residential development with retail on the ground floor. Queen St. and Portland St., near Bathurst St., was their first retail shopping complex to be anchored by a major supermarket – Loblaws. This multi-use approach proved to be hugely successful and was followed by shopping complexes anchored by other major tenants including Canadian Tire and Longos. These anchor stores started out in more suburban areas and, working with RioCan, migrated to core areas of the city as suburban land for development become more costly and harder to obtain.

Residential developers recognized retail on the main floor of a residential building as being beneficial to a development. As the cost of purchasing land increased, it became necessary for residential properties to integrate with commercial or retail to make them financially viable.

Today, mixed use developments are common throughout Toronto. Smart developers work hard to integrate retail and/or commercial uses so that they are beneficial to the local community. Forward thinking developers find that such retail is in short supply.

Transit and Malls

Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail (LRT) is a new transit line across Eglinton Ave. that is currently being constructed. This 25 km LRT running from Weston Rd. to Kennedy Ave. will provide access to both subway and Go Transit. This transit line is central to RioCan’s mall redevelopments.

It is no coincidence that RioCan is updating its malls in major transit corridors. This is where future growth and intensification is likely to occur in the coming years. The company has applications for intensifying and upgrading existing shopping centres along the Eglinton LRT corridor including retail properties at Eglinton & Bayview, Eglinton & Laird and Eglinton & Warden.

Malls for the Future

Two of RioCan’s properties currently undergoing redevelopment and intensification are at the intersection of major transportation routes.

The two properties are Yonge Eglinton Centre and Sheppard Centre. Once vibrant, both are now inefficient retail space unable to accommodate the requirements of larger format retailers. Each has poor pedestrian access, orientation and loading facilities. Both malls were part of an earlier generation of malls that no longer operate well in their respective areas. They are avoided by consumers because they don’t function well.

Yonge Eglinton Centre

The new Yonge Eglinton Centre will be completed later this year.

Through a series of interviews, RioCan identified parking, food court, public washrooms and lighting as requiring improvement. The new Yonge Eglinton Centre has improved in all these areas. It also offers improved access for the handicapped, seniors and parents with strollers. Public but privately owned space will be better utilized.

The mall has been redesigned for community use. There is space for fashion shows, book readings and other community events. Retail space has been transformed to reflect the demographic of the neighbourhood. Current tenants such as Rexall Drugs, Metro and LCBO will be complemented by new tenants including Joe Fresh, Urban Outfitters, Winners and Cineplex.

An outdoor square will be integrated with stores and include art installations. This area will be more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing. There will be a publicly accessible outdoor roof garden.

New digital signage will be used to promote community events.

Sheppard Centre

Sheppard Centre was purchased by RioCan about two years ago. The mall suffers from many of the same problems that plagued Yonge Eglinton Centre. The new Sheppard Centre, likely to be complete mid-2016 will include redesigned retail space similar to that of the new Yonge Eglinton Centre. An underground loading area and improved access will be important enhancements. New tenants will include LA Fitness and Longos.

Rental Apartments Integrate with Mall Redevelopments

RioCan believes there is unsatisfied demand for rental properties that are modern, efficient, appropriately sized, professionally managed and providing security of tenure.

The company is able to build multi-family residential rental buildings on land they currently own. Doing so is consistent with their intensification strategy.

From a tenant perspective, rental buildings provide certain advantages over renting a condo. In a professionally managed rental building management is responsible for repairing broken appliances, water leaks and other in-suite issues. The management company is tasked with reselling the space each year and the best way to do so is to keep current tenants happy. In a condo, addressing such issues may be the responsibility of the tenant or a condo owner who is unavailable when problems arise.

Both Sheppard Centre and Yonge Eglinton Centre properties will include rental apartment buildings.

Yonge Eglinton Centre is one of RioCan’s first mall properties to include a residential component. Their residential complex on the northeast corner of Yonge and Eglinton will include two towers, 62 & 36 floors, comprised of 465 rental apartments and 622 condominiums. Over 600 of the condominiums have been presold. This project has a 2017 completion date.

Sheppard Centre is expected to include a 343 unit residential apartment  building to complement three existing towers.