When it comes to the development of office space in Downtown Toronto, a few big names spring to mind: Brookfield; Oxford; Cadillac Fairview. Perhaps lesser known, but no less active in Downtown Toronto, is Allied Properties REIT. Much like a mutual fund, a REIT or "real estate investment trust" allows individual and insitutional investors to pool their money with others in order to participate in large-scale investments that may otherwise be beyond their capability - specifically real estate investments such as hotels, apartments, offices and shopping malls. Allied, which is a developer and owner of mostly office buildings, owns properties across Canada totalling nearly 10 million square feet.
What makes Allied distinctive is their focus on predominately urban locations and their comparatively sensitive approach to heritage properties. One project that exemplifies both of these qualities is Queen Richmond Centre West, a 350,000 square foot office complex designed by Sweeny &Co Architects Inc. currently under construction at Richmond and Peter Streets. The design uses an innovative delta frame structure to suspend a modern 11-storey tower over an existing 4-storey heritage façade.
120,000 square feet of the building is now leased, 50,000 of that to Sapient Corp., and 70,000 square feet of space to an as-yet unnamed tenant. That new tenant's space will include the dramatic fifth storey Sky Lobby sitting atop the project's heritage component.
Most noteworthy about Queen Richmond Centre is that it represents Allied's belief that the neighbourhoods on the east and west sides of Downtown Toronto, particularly the Entertainment and Fashion Districts, can support and foster a growing population of office-workers and corporations rather than just condos-dwellers.
More than just planting a flag on Toronto's Downtown West, Allied, whose headquarters are at King and Brant Streets, is pushing to establish itself as the major player in new office space in the neighbourhood. Their other projects in the area include 388 King West, a 33-storey, 770,000 square foot office tower to be built at King West & Peter Streets, 20 York (formerly 171 Front West), a 47-storey, 1.1 million square foot office tower to be built at Front West and Simcoe Streets, and a 34-storey office tower at The Well, a recently announced mixed-use development to be built on the former Globe and Mail lands at Front Street West and Spadina Avenue.
In an effort to suit the needs of a wide variety of tenants, Allied recently unveiled preliminary plans for two more office projects in the King West neighbourhood. The first is 620 King West, a joint venture between Allied and RioCan REIT to be built at King West and Portland Streets.
Some may remember a previous proposal for the site called Context King West, which was to be a residential condominium designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects. After that project ran into some title issues with portions of the property, the developer, Context Development, sold the property to Allied. Because Allied owned an adjacent property on Adelaide Street, they were able to slightly shift the floorplate of the proposed building, thereby avoiding the problematic title issues that sank the original proposal.
In addition to keeping the same architects on board, Allied has been able to substantially maintain the general form and massing of the building, but has introduced a 12-storey office component into the project that would front onto King Street West.
A condominium component would remain fronting on to Adelaide Street West. The development partner in respect of the residential condominium component has yet to be named. It is also worth noting that the originally proposed (and much lauded) mid-block pedestrian connection between King Street West and Adelaide Street West has also been maintained, along with plans for bricked-arch detailing in the complex's pedestrian realm.
Allied's other newly unveiled project in the neighbourhood is 489-499 King West, a 12-storey office building to be built at King West and Brant Streets. The site is currently home to a heritage warehouse fronting King Street West (at 489 King Street West), another heritage warehouse at the back of the lot (at 495 King Street West), and a 1-storey building housing a restaurant called Spice Route (at 499 King Street West).
The plans for the warehouse at 495 King Street West are currently unknown, but given that it is obscured from the King West streetscape, it is likely that it will be replaced with the new build. The warehouse at 489 King Street West, on the other hand, will be incorporated into the project in some fashion, however from the initial renderings it is unclear whether any portion of the building other than the façade will be retained.
Nevertheless, the newly-released renderings by Sweeny &Co Architects show significant improvement over Allied's initial plans for the site which called for a 22-storey office tower that would have provided no heritage preservation and would have included a pedestrian-unfriendly vehicle entrance fronting on to King Street West.
Though Allied's vision for Toronto's Downtown West is ambitious, many of these projects are either still working their way through the City's approval process or have yet to secure tenants. Construction of these projects would occur once pre-leasing thresholds have been met at any particular site.
For more information on the projects discussed above, click on the dataBase links below and stay tuned with UrbanToronto for more updates as they come!
Rami Kozman is a commercial real estate lawyer in Toronto and can be found on Twitter at twitter.com/ramikozman.