When you see the rendering below, you might consider the title of this artcle, announcing another huge project, to be misleading—this is a very sensible repurposing and renewal of a signficant commercial building all right, but is this huge?—but then you'll have to consider that this is only the first building proposed by First Gulf Corporation on this site beside the Don River, and it is only a small piece of a much grander design.
21 Don Roadway was a factory for years, the Toronto home of Britain's Lever Brothers where Sunlight soap and other products were produced, most recently under the Unilever brand name. The factory closed in 2009 following a long strike against the last owner Pensler Capital. In January of 2012 First Gulf announced they had bought the 28.5 acre site. On Thursday the plans for it were detailed in a presentation to civic, real estate, and business leaders by David Gerofsky, CEO of First Gulf from the building's third floor, with a view of the city's skyline twinkling in the background.
I spoke with Gerofsky about the project.
"We've been working on this with Unilever for the last year and a half, nearly two years, and even before we purchased the site earlier this year. Our vision for this nearly 30 acre site is to build a mixed-use employment zone here with a heavy emphasis on office, and we want to reconnect it to the rest of the city. It's been cut off from the city for over 100 years—very few people have ever been on this site."
I see that Broadview Avenue is to be extended through the site to make that reconnection.
"It's our vision to bring Broadview through the site down to the Port Lands, including an LRT south from Broadview subway station right down through the site and then over to Union Station, and also to connect to GO right across the river, and create an eastern downtown GO station which will serve this site, the West Don Lands (which is the Pan Am site), and the Port Lands."
What kind of time frame are you looking at?
"As a 30-acre site we think that there's at least 5 million square feet of development that it will take, so it's going to take place over many years. We're talking about a multi-phase development. The first thing we're going to do is repurpose and reuse this existing building. Where we're standing today is 152,000 square feet in size, and it can be expanded to 242,000 square feet by erecting three more floors on top, the way we did with the Coca-Cola building on King."
Is it Pellow and Associates Architects working on this?
"Pellow is involved, but we also have an international architect working on this site."
Can you reveal their name?
"That will come in the future!"
Is the next step to go the the City for rezoning?
"We're working closely with the City, with Metrolinx, with the TTC, with Waterfront Toronto. We're working with all the stakeholders in this area, so yes, we are looking at that with the City right now, with the local councillor and with Planning. It's a massive exercise."
The Downtown Relief Line has risen to the top of Metrolinx's priority list as of today's announcement at the Board of Trade. Would a new DRL subway station serve this site?
"Very much so. This is directly on some of the proposed routes that we have seen for the DRL and we would obviously be delighted, and would be very cooperative to help make that happen."
This could be a new eastern core for the city.
"We call it the Canary Wharf of Toronto. It really represents a new city on the eastern side of Downtown Toronto."
Despite the site's central location, the parcel has long been walled off from the city by the Gardiner, the Don Valley Parkway, and the rail tracks. Its eastern side is hidden behind more industrial. The key to unlocking the site is the extension of Broadview Avenue south from Eastern Avenue, under the tracks, and down to Lake Shore Boulevard across from Saulter Street, which then continues into the Port Land regeneration areas. The LRT would be an extension of the Broadview streetcar tracks south from where they now turn at Queen Street. This transit line would follow Broadview and Saulter south to Commissioners Street, and then turn west towards Cherry Street and then follow the Queens Quay past the East Bayfront regeneration area and on to Harbourfront and Union Station. When all of this is finished many acres of land that have been hidden and hard to get to for years will become very well connected indeed.
Also part of the planned city-wide connections for the area is a new station for the GO rail system between Cherry Street and River Street just across the Don River from the 21 Don Roadway site. A new pedestrian bridge would link the station with First Gulf's property. More than just opening up the area to commuters from across the GTA, the new GO station would relieve some pressure from crowded Union Station by allowing trains to stop and then pass through without having to turn around. The turnaround adds excessively to the time trains must dwell at Union. The new West Don Lands station would be built to handle the turnaround proceedure for GO more efficiently, while opening up another area of Toronto for redevelopment and intensification. This win-win plan for GO has been quietly considered for a while, but was explained thoroughly and advocated for strongly by Jonathan English in the CityRail articles that UrbanToronto began publishing this past summer. Those articles can be found via links at the end of this one, but the article at this link on corridor capacity is the best in explaining the benefits of this new station.
As you can see from the concept plan below, 21 Don Roadway (in light purple at the left side of the blue-tinted area), represents only a small portion of the entire site, and the Broadview Avenue extension is only one of a number of new streets which could soon be opening up and serving the area. Offices will take precedence, while other space will be left for retail, parks, and likely a residential component. This plan represents the first concrete moves in what will surely be major new node for Toronto, and is yet another signficant step forward in Toronto's emergence as a major world-city.
If you would like more information on First Gulf's 21 Don Roadway project, choose the UrbanToronto dataBase link at the bottom of this page, or choose the associated Projects & Construction Forum thread link to get in on the discussion.