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In the east end, a hot pocket 

Parliament/Queen area has 15,000 new units booked and prices are rising with demand

Terrence Belford
The Globe and Mail
June 26, 2009

If you are one of those people always on the lookout for the next big thing, then as far as new condos go it will likely be that area of the city bound by Jarvis to Parliament Streets and from Queen Street south of the Esplanade, give or take a couple of blocks.

Once characterized by its proliferating used furniture and book stores, rooming houses and small pockets of light industry, there were also a handful of mews streets of wonderful turn-of-the-century row houses but not much else to recommend the area to home buyers.

But as more desirable areas such as downtown west started to fill with condos and rents started to rise for commercial enterprises, canny developers started moving east drawn by relatively inexpensive land prices and great public transit.

“It was a bit of a dead zone,” says Brad Lamb, of Brad J. Lamb Realty Inc., who is developing projects of his own in the area. “But now it is definitely an area to watch.”

One indicator of strong demand is the area's rapid rise in price for square footage, says Jane Renwick, executive vice-president of Urbanation Inc., which tracks the GTA housing market. She says the average for all condos sold to date is about $449 a square foot, while unsold inventory now commands $531 a square foot. What is more, there are nine new condo projects currently under way, plus seven more in the planning stages.

That, however, is only a very tiny tip to the downtown east iceberg. If you include the adjacent west Docklands and waterfront lands, Ms. Renwick says there are 15,597 new condo units in various stages of approval.

“It is the largest area of Toronto for future new development, and because of the city's commitment to the Docklands and waterfront it is certain to include terrific new parks and great public transit,” she says.

If Toronto wins its bid for the 2015 Pan American Games, then the area will really heat up, says John Berman, a partner in the redevelopment of the Distillery District at Mill Street and Parliament Street.

“One of the first things to be built will be 6,000 residential suites to house the athletes,” he says. “That will go up right next to the Distillery District.

“We already have a streetcar loop to Cherry Street going in. This area is really taking off.”

None too soon frankly. In 1980 I bought a 19th century row house on Wascana Avenue, one block north of Queen, running west off River Street. The hope was that the area would soon follow in the path of Cabbagetown. My timing was about 30 years premature.

What the area needed was a new focal point, something so unique that it would draw traffic and interest east.

Eight years ago, Mr. Berman and his partners in Cityscape Development Corp., provided that when they bought the five hectares of land and 45 buildings that ounce housed the Gooderham & Worts distillery.

Today the area boasts 325,000 square feet of commercial space, a quartet of completed condominiums with another two under way. Its restaurants, cafes, theatre and dance companies, boutiques and specialty stores draw in tourists and locals alike. No other neighbourhood in the city looks and feels quite like it.

“There is no question that what we have done had provided a draw for redevelopment,” says Mr. Berman. “We supplied that solid eastern anchor the area needed.”

Besides, he says, it is a lot easier to get in and out of this neighbourhood than downtown west. The Bayview extension is five minutes away, a quick route to St. Clair or Eglinton. The King and Queen Street streetcars are close by and Lakeshore Boulevard is a 9-iron shot to the south.

Buyers in this neighbourhood also don't have to put up with the noise and traffic congestion common in downtown west as there are fewer clubs and nightspots. Another appealing feature, says Ms. Renwick, is that, on average, new condos in the southern chunk of downtown east are more like boutique structures – offering smaller and more affordable suites in smaller projects. The average number of suites per building is just 232, she says. “They also tend to pop up in small pockets and usually spark an overall gentrification of the immediate neighbourhood.” And unlike many other areas of the city, these projects continue to sell, says Mr. Berman. “In the first week of June we sold 10 suites in the two we have on sale now.”

Posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 02:42PM by Registered CommenterElaine in | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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