Toronto's Yorkville area has gone from prim village to down-on-its-luck to bohemian quarter to upscale destination over many years. It's now the city's premiere shopping and haute couture district, a luxury cachet that is most in evidence during the famed Toronto International Film Festival, with celebrities from all over descending on the area. This exclusivity has captivated developers as of late, and the current building boom has seen them getting in on the luxury Yorkville action. The increasing density and height of the buildings replacing some of the existing smaller Victorian and even treasured Modernist structures is not without controversy though.

In 1968 it was common practice to raze whole city blocks and start from scratch when constructing new developments. Breaking from the mould at the corner of Avenue Road and Yorkville Avenue, Jack Diamond and Barton Myers instead saw an opportunity to combine past, present, and future. A late modernist wrap was added to the existing Victorian houses, and at the rear, the backyards and open spaces were turned into a central boutique community commercial space; York Square.

Current York Square in the foreground and Hazelton Lanes neighbouring in the background, image from Google Street View

A posh neighbourhood makeover soon followed the precedent setting work by Diamond and Myers. In 1976 the Hazelton Lanes Shopping Centre and Condominiums opened up directly to the north, nearly tripling in size with an addition that opened in 1989. Drawing large crowds and the hottest fashion, the mall became was an initial success, but has had some trouble since, especially in the recession of the 90s. While the addition of Whole Foods has been a shot in the arm, the mall has struggled to regain its luxury stature, and has never lived up to its full potential. With an ambitious plan to rekindle its original lustre, First Capital Realty bought the mall in 2011.

New Hazelton Lanes Avenue Road Main Entrance by Kasian for First Capital Realty

The design by Kasian would see the mall's interior completely renovated with modern finishes and furnishings. The central oval is re-engineered with a larger glass ceiling and a renovated atrium. Outside, Hazelton Lanes would get a marquee entrance on Avenue Road, complete with new coloured glass signage, adding some visual intrigue to the streetscape. For a more detailed look at these plans, Retail-Insider.com has the full renovation story and floor plans to check out.

New atrium and glass roof at Hazelton Lanes by Kasian for First Capital Realty

At the neighbouring York Square site immediately south, Empire Communities and Greybrook Realty Partners have been planning a 348-suite condominium in 35-storey project currently known as 140 Yorkville to replace the current Diamond and Myers-designed shops. The new design by Richmond Architects with the collaboration of Zeidler Partnership Architects would see a Modernist articulated tower with staggered panelling and balconies. At ground level it would have two floors of retail.

140 Yorkville, 39 storey version (since reduced to 35) by Richmond Architects for Empire Communities and Greybrook Realty

140 Yorkville from the east 39 storey version (since reduced to 35) by Richmond Architects for Empire Communities and Greybrook Realty

In a recent Toronto Star interview, Greybrook's Peter Politis spilled the latest thinking about the two projects. With the common goal of redeveloping the western terminus of Yorkville, Empire/Greybrook are now working together with First Capital to produce a seamless retail feature along Avenue Road, expanding Hazelton Lanes into the 140 Yorkville development. The new retail frontage would extend from the updated Hazelton Lanes and wrap around the corner to Yorkville Avenue, carrying a consistent motif and design elements.

140 Yorkville's new combined podium design with Hazelton Lanes, image from Greybrook Realty Partners

It appears that 136 Yorkville, a pair of Victorians converted to retail 40 or more years ago, and purchased by First Capital recently, would also become part of the expansion, nestling the new development up against the Hazelton Hotel to the east. Presumably a new entrance to the mall better connecting it to Yorkville Avenue would be located under the blue glass screen seen at right in the image above.

Those opposing the development lament the loss of the neighbourhood character of the existing buildings, the loss of 136 Yorkville's rare bi-level retail frontage, the loss of the York Square Victorian-Modernist hybrid buildings, and the disregard for the kind of adaptive reuse that Jack Diamond and Barton Myers pioneered in the area.

The two projects are still in the planning stages, none of the designs are final yet, and the planning process may bring changes. As that process moves forward, UrbanToronto will keep you updated. Check out the dataBase entries, linked below, to see more renderings of the projects. Be part the conversation and have your say by leaving a comment below, or join in on the discussion in the associated Forum threads.

Related Companies:  Empire Communities, Entuitive, First Capital Realty, Greybrook Realty Partners, Johnson Chou Inc., Kasian, Richmond Architects, Scott Torrance Landscape Architect, urbanMetrics inc., Zeidler Partnership Architects