Today we present a guest post from Dean Macaskill, Senior Vice President at Lennard Commercial Realty. Dean has worked as a commercial realtor since 1980 and has years of industry insight into the Toronto real estate market. Having been through three cycles in the business, he has seen the highs and lows. He'll be sharing some of his insider information and insights with UrbanToronto on a semi-regular basis.

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While reading UrbanToronto the other day, this writer thumbed through the Growth to Watch for 2018 series' North Etobicoke and Weston instalment. In the article, mention is made of 22 John Street just north of Weston Road and Lawrence, a property this scribe listed in 2012.

This was a very complex transaction. At the time, the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA) had a commuter parking lot on the site as the Weston GO Station was located there at the time. The station was being relocated south of Lawrence, resulting in a need for less parking and, as such, the site was viewed as surplus to TPA’s needs. It was also noted that Weston Village needed a boost.

Local councillor Frances Nunziata had a vision for this site, including an arts and cultural centre for the community, something sorely lacking for residents. There was also a farmer’s market that took place every weekend on the lot so that use was to be accommodated in any future development. This made for a rather difficult offering. Firstly, at the time, Weston and Lawrence wasn’t really on many developers’ radar. Now add to the mix a cultural centre and farmer’s market, we had our hands full.

This led to our first issue. Who was going to run the cultural centre? The city wanted competition for the use but, other than Artscape, who else would look at the site? We approached Margie Zeidler, who is very active in the art world, but the best she could offer was her appreciation for what we were doing and a willingness to offer support if need be. So it looked like Artscape would be the default operator of the cultural centre, as long as they were on side. But what if they weren’t? Or, what if they were on side but would do so only with a developer of their choosing? This was supposed to be a public offering process, so we couldn’t have our hands tied, yet we needed Artscape on side as the cultural centre was a promise made to the community. Although Artscape did have their preferred partner, they did not allow this to interfere in our marketing process.

22 John Street, Weston, Rockport Group, Artscape22 John Street, image courtesy of Rockport Group/Artscape

So the marketing commenced but we quickly realized that most of the name brand players had no interest in pioneering in Weston Village. That led us to a number of players including Options for Homes, though this was not a strong option as they were already developing to the south and we weren’t sure if they had the capacity to undertake another development in the area. 

On the offer due date, we received 5 offers for this 1.42-acre site but at rather depressed pricing levels. What caught everyone’s eye was a very creative deal from Rockport Group and Woodbourne Capital, the owner of the high-rise apartment building to the north of our site. As it turned out, when originally developed, the apartment building on King Street contained a large ground floor retail element. This element had sat vacant for years with little hope of being leased given its location off of Weston Road. This space, though, overlooked the TPA site. What an excellent location for Artscape! This would also free up land for the farmer’s market. The selling price of the site was just over $2.1 million. 

One thing that was left to finish was the partial replacement of the parking on the TPA site: the land to the west of the site was unencumbered but the owner was not willing to sell. The land had to be expropriated.  

The patience of everyone involved in this deal was immense. There were so many elements to this transaction and it took years to complete, but it came together due to the co-operation of all participants at the table. This one development has created what it set out to do; put Weston Village back in the eyes of investors, and since the launch, the area has been on fire.