The first of what are certain to be many public consultations on the landmark Mirvish+Gehry proposal took place at Metro Hall on the evening of December 11th. The meeting was chaired by City Councillor, Adam Vaughan, in whose ward the proposal is sited. The approximately 100 people who were in attendance heard from City staff about the issues that the proposal raises and about the complicated process through which the proposal will be vetted as it seeks approval. Speakers included Phil Carvalino, the City Planner assigned to the file, James Parahk, Senior Urban Designer at the City, and Mary Macdonald, Acting Manager of Heritage Preservation Services at the City. Many other planning staff members were at the meeting, volunteering their time to assist to answer questions about the proposal and its ramifications.

The properties that make up the site are highlighted in this slide

The first slides presented established exactly what properties are part of David Mirvish's proposal. As has been known, the site is over two blocks, bifurcated by Duncan Street, in fact a portion which has the honorary name 'Ed Mirvish Way'. To the west of Duncan is the largest portion of the proposal, taking the entire block circumscribed by King, Duncan, Pearl, and John streets. On this part of the site would rise phases two and three of the Gehry Partners proposal, towers which would top out at 84 storeys and 86 storeys, both rising from a 6-storey podium. The property east of Duncan is smaller. It consists of the building between the Royal Alexandra Theatre and Duncan, but does not quite extend all the way to Pearl. The tower on this property is considered phase one, and it would top out at 82 storeys, rising from a 6-storey podium as well. It is this phase which would contain the new OCAD University facilities including a public gallery. The properties can be seen in the slide above, outlined in red.

All of the buildings which would come down to make way for the proposal, other than the Princess of Wales Theatre, are listed properties in the City of Toronto's Heritage Inventory, and which are afforded special protection owing to that designation. The Princess of Wales is not, and there has been some public outcry at its potential loss. Renowned artist Frank Stella, whose work graces much of the Princess of Wales, is on the record stating that everything of value of his in the theatre can be salvaged or reproduced in the new complex, and in fact Stella has been retained to create work for the new complex. In addition, many works by Stella are part of the Mirvish's standout modern art collection which would be showcased in a major new public art gallery planned for the phase two-three portion of the project.

The current proposal for the ground floor plan

The proposed ground floor plan along with the top-down view of the project were presented. The ground floor plan shows wider sidewalks and a highly articulated face for the building on King and Duncan streets. The top-down plan shows that the buildings shift, or rotate, to a degree around their core as they rise. It also shows highly terraced, stepped-back designs for the podium levels.

The current proposal for the top-down plan

Another slide compared the height of the proposed Mirvish+Gehry towers to that of other existing and approved towers to the east and west of the proposal. While other towers built in the Entertainment District have been stepping down from the heights of the Financial Core towers as they get closer to Spadina Avenue, this proposal breaks that mould.

Comparing the height of Mirvish+Gehry to nearby buildings

A number of slides also illustrated how the buildings would fit into the area from a bird's eye view, looking southwest in the case below. All existing, under cosntruction, or approved buildings are shown in the axonometric image below in relation to the Mirvish+Gehry proposal.

Mirvish+Gehry fitting into the skyline with all surrounding buildings, built and approved

It was in these images that we got the best look at the evolving plan for the towers.

Close-up on the evolving Mirvish+Gehry proposal

In comparison, but from another angle and created entirely differently, the image below of the context maquette was released at the time of the general announcement in September.

Mirvish+Gehry context maquette, September 2012

It should be understood that everything we see at this point is still conceptual, and that the proposal will contune to evolve and be both refined and better defined as it progresses.

Mirvish+Gehry and surroundings looking north from Front Street

Slides were also presented showing potential skyline images of the towers, above showing a section of the city looking north from Front Street, while the one below looks south from Queen.

Mirvish+Gehry and surroundings looking south from Queen Street

After the presentation was made, those in attendance were asked for their feedback to a number of questions. Participants were seated around tables with eight chairs each, and at each table there was a fourth year Ryerson University planning student to conduct the discussion and take notes. City staff were available at this time to clarify details of the proposal.

After each table had discussed the project's impacts, the Ryerson planning students reported on the table's findings to the whole room, and the concerns were compiled by Councillor Vaughan's staff. A short question and answer period followed.

Many of the concerns are exactly what one would expect to be raised at a meeting like this, and they revolve to a great degree around the issues presented by the vibrancy already noted in this highly trafficked area. Those who live and/or work in the area reported packed sidewalks, roads, and streetcars, and a lack of public space. There was concern that David Pecaut Square has too many programmed events now to punction properly as a park. Adam Vaughan did note the coming changes and additions to public space all along the John Street Cultural Corridor.

Many of the people in attendance, far more than is usual at an early consultation such as this one, were from outside of the neighbourhood. The scale and details of the proposal had spurred many people from across the city to attend the meeting to indicate their interest in it. Similarly there was also concern expressed from beyond the neighbourhood for the threatened historic fabric here, and this will component of the approvals process will likely prove to be the trickiest element of the design evolution here.

Councillor Vaughan stressed that it is too early in the process to talk about possible section 37 benefits, which are improvements to the public realm and faciltiies in return for the City granting greater density than would be otherwise allowed. He wants the proposal to address the needs of the neighbourhood first before discussions proceed in that regard.

There is a long road ahead for the proposal, and many other neighbourhood issues to consider including a Heritage District study, a similarly massive proposal on the Convention Centre site, city service needs for the area including most obviously improving transportation, including TTC, pedestrian space, and bicycling in the area. We will keep you posted.

Many more images of Mirvish+Gehry can be seen in our dataBase entry for the project. It's linked below along with associated Forum threads if you want to get in on the discussion. There are also several related stories from the time of the September launch you may be interested in too.

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