Despite Toronto's ongoing building boom, pockets of downtown property remain undeveloped or heavily underutilized. In Corktown, one such piece of land prime for redevelopment was the target of a competition hosted by one of Ontario's most prestigious universities. The University of Guelph Undergraduate Real Estate Case Competition (URECC) invited students to create a development plan for 28-32 Eastern Avenue that incorporated a legal, physical and financial analysis of the site. Students had two and a half months to create a vision that would maximize the bid for the property, which would then be judged by an esteemed panel of real estate professionals.
The competition culminated at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on April 4. It boasted seven teams of five people each, representing five universities across Ontario and in Alberta. Talented undergraduate students from the University of Calgary, University of Guelph, Queen's University, Ryerson University and York University all competed and presented their concepts. After the initial first round presentations in the morning, three teams emerged as finalists. The Dragons Den-esque presentations consisted of a fictional development company asking potential investors for project funding. Those potential investors were represented by some of Toronto's most notable industry leaders: Michael Emory, President and CEO of Allied Properties REIT; David Chalmers, Vice President of Asset Management at Starlight Investments; Dermot Sweeny, President and Principal of Sweeny &Co; and Richard Joy, Executive Director of the Urban Land Institute Toronto.
The nondescript buildings currently occupying the site house a design practice, a printing company and an Assured Automotive facility. With the relevant planning policies in mind, including the King-Parliament Secondary Plan, the site at Eastern Avenue and Sackville Street presents a blank slate for intensification that the students eagerly developed their ideas for.
Third place went to The Martello Group from Queen's University, who envisioned a broader development that would see the parcel to the north purchased in a land assembly. Noting the lack of desirable retail in the immediate area, such an arrangement would allow the creation of six retail outlets on King Street East in addition to four commercial units on Eastern Avenue. The building would include nearly 150 apartments, 21 townhomes and a privately-owned public space serving as the project's courtyard. Martello's plan received commendation for its mix of uses, additional purchase of land, and provision of public space.
Students from the University of Guelph, bearing the collective name Enterprise Ltd., proposed a 16-storey building with 195 apartment units and nine live/work units at grade. The 53.5-metre tower would rise from a podium topped by a green roof. When judging the entry, Sweeny remarked that the proposal's four-storey above-ground parking garage would necessitate a special zoning permit which would prove difficult to obtain. The project's primary strengths lay in the comprehensive financial analysis the team produced, for which they received an award by Oxford Properties Group. The development's proposed environmental measures, which included recycling of construction materials and efficient energy and water fixtures, earned praise and a sustainability award from Reid's Heritage Homes. The team ultimately achieved second place in the competition.
Another University of Guelph team—the H & H Group—was the final team to present, and subsequently announced as the first prize winners for a residential, office and retail project they dubbed 'Blackburn Corner.' The plan takes its name from Thornton Blackburn, a former Kentucky slave who escaped to Canada around 1830 with his wife and then established the city's first horse-drawn cab company. The eight-storey building's design takes inspiration from the neighbourhood character and the site itself, where Blackburn's home stood, by cladding the project in brick. To further cement the building's connection to the Blackburns, the team called for the display of various heritage elements in the building's lobby. The development's ground floor would host retail, while the rest of its volume would be anchored by 78 residential units and a fitness centre.
Emory especially liked the heritage link and the articulated facade, happily stating it "looks like an Allied building." Upon presenting a shiny gold-clad shovel and a $5,000 novelty cheque to H&H Group, Emory hailed the first place University of Guelph students for their "superb example of team interaction and flow" and the project's "sensitivity to the urban environment."
The annual event, which last year showcased proposals for the Mirvish Village site, is looking to expand its scope in the coming years. The URECC hopes to build a global network by attracting real estate talent from around the world, inviting them to present their vision for a Toronto property at future competitions. To find out more about the competition, visit the official website.