PIAZZA concept: Queen-Shuter-Dalhousie-Mutual

Discussion in 'Toronto Issues' started by 3Dementia, Jan 28, 2013.

  1. 3Dementia

    3Dementia Senior Member

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    With all the discussion of public squares in general, and this city block in particular in the "decay of Queen Street East" thread (it has remained a parking lot for 28 years), I had hoped to announce some triumphant news about a concept introduced here and in the media about 5 years year ago that some of you will remember.

    CATHEDRAL SQUARE, a mixed-used community surrounding a European-style piazza interpreted in a Toronto architectural context, was envisioned as a true legacy project for the city that would accelerate the east of Yonge transformation that is underway, eliminating a massive scar on the downtown urban fabric.

    Long story short: in the past 6 months the idea was revived and developed further and "market-tested" with a handful of major developers. All responded enthusiastically but all identified a major barrier - inflated land valuation. Interest from international retailers not represented in Toronto and overseas investor interest began to solidify. The neighbourhood faces tremendous, much-discussed challenges of course and suffice to say support for the long-term transformative potential of CATHEDRAL SQUARE from neighbourhood organizations was enthusiastic, to say the least.

    A brief project overview, which can be downloaded at cathedralsquare.ca, was presented to the landowners a few weeks ago. Though well received, the landowners confirmed the land was not for sale... at any price.

    Obviously there have been many approaches from developers and others over the years as this is largest piece of "vacant" land in the downtown, just minutes from Yonge Street. Unconfirmed reports suggest that in the past year, despite an inflated valuation, a group agreed to meet the asking price, only to have to walk away after ownership (two elderly gentlemen) changed their minds. This may have happened a number of times.

    So the bad news is, short of expropriation, this huge city block with "transformative" city-building potential, will remain a parking lot for the foreseeable future. 28 years and counting. Suffice to say, we are somewhat devastated.

    Why report this news on a public forum? Other than a minor cathartic benefit (it was a lot of work), my intention is not to whine and complain (business is business) but to shed some light on the challenges of developing property in general, and this priceless (lost) opportunity in particular. Feel free to comment on the project overview if you wish.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013
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  2. Riverdale Rink Rat

    Riverdale Rink Rat Senior Member

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    3D - that's a great concept! Any chance you could pitch a longterm lease or equity position in the project instead of a true sale? I'd love to see this get built.
     
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  3. nfitz

    nfitz Superstar

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    Last edited: Jan 28, 2013
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  4. Ramako

    Ramako Moderator

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    Wow, what a shame that this fell through. Toronto needs a public square like this in the worst way. NPS is too cold and sterile, and Yonge & Dundas Square is too small and commercial.
     
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  5. balenciaga

    balenciaga Banned

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    very true.
    We need a big and interesting and urban public square just for people to enjoy a great afternoon, preferably involving plenty of cafes and seating.
    So far Toronto doesn't have one.

    Can't the city just expropriate the lot, or do something to force the owner to sell/lease? What exactly do the owners want?
     
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  6. 3Dementia

    3Dementia Senior Member

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    ^every imaginable financial model was discussed, even tossed in naming rights (fell on deaf ears) but the answer is a flat no at any price/any participation (retail and commercial leases, parking of course etc.).
     
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  7. DSC

    DSC Senior Member

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    Presumably the current owners are making $$ from the parking lot and are able to cover their expenses, taxes and make a profit. Surely one way a city can encourage development is to increase the tax on unbuilt - vacant - lots, This would make uses such as surface parking lots too expensive.
     
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  8. 3Dementia

    3Dementia Senior Member

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    ^good point.

    As for the expropriation issue mentioned, the rules are clear (fair market value + public benefit from the development) but it of course requires the support of city council.
     
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  9. innsertnamehere

    innsertnamehere Senior Member

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    fooling around on sketchup for my concept for the site: two 225m and 130m condo towers, along with a large public square and a museum of toronto / Theatre, and a 3 floor Retail portion:

    [​IMG]]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  10. yyzer

    yyzer Senior Member

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    very sorry to hear this, 3D.....
     
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  11. 3Dementia

    3Dementia Senior Member

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    Thanks YYZ.

    I'm not the only one to drill a dry well here, but I'm sure you know how passionately I feel about this sort of car-free "meeting place" for Toronto. Especially here - a blank canvas for 28 years. The city needs it, is ready for it, deserves it and citizens would treasure it. The positive impact on regeneration of other parts of the neighbourhood/properties would be equally as important as the legacy of the square itself.

    I understand they have never been interested in developing the property or participating in anyway in a third party development, just increasing its value, presumably to sell eventually. Intel received suggested the (expensive) 2004 re-zoning and planning proposal was not about building at all, just increased density (thus increased valuation). Hard to believe anyone would go through the expense (architects, planning consults, studies) for this reason alone, however my info is from a reliable source.

    It's frustrating, if not impossible, to try understand the shift from "asking too much" to "not for sale at any price". Makes no sense.

    I'd bet the next generation of ownership will have it listed for sale, minutes after taking title (whenever that happens). Frankly, I'd welcome any development here. A full city block, minutes from Yonge... a parking lot for 28 years... does a tremendous disservice to downtown's urban fabric. It's kinda ridiculous.
     
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  12. jozl

    jozl Active Member

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    Two things the city can do. First, if the owners had requested an inflated purchase price from prospective buyers the city should reassess the land to reflect that price. A healthy increase in property tax should follow. Second, the city should have the right to expropriate any surface parking lot in the city. A city of 2.6 million should not be allowed to be held hostage by two old deadbeats. Twenty-eight years is long enough. End of discussion.
     
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  13. 3Dementia

    3Dementia Senior Member

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    Agreed. Let me know you've arranged this. :cool:

    As mentioned before, of course the city (via the province) has the right to expropriate. That's what happened with Dundas Square. It just requires the will of council. Unfortunately the chance of the ward councillor championing such an initiative are likely zero.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2013
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  14. urbandreamer

    urbandreamer recession proof

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    If I owned land here I'd hang on to it. I could see c.2040s it being prime office tower land.

    A piazza here? I really don't think it would work.
     
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  15. 3Dementia

    3Dementia Senior Member

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    Fortunately for Toronto you don't own the land. And the present ownership won't be around in 2040 :).
     
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