Ever since it was announced last year that David Mirvish had sold his family's iconic Honest Ed's store and Mirvish Village properties at Bloor and Bathurst Streets to Vancouver-based developer Westbank Corp, people have been wondering what the proposed redevelopment of the site would look like. Would the quaint and eclectic atmosphere of Markham Street be maintained? How tall and dense would the proposal be? Will it end up with a monolithic feel?

…and more than any other question, 'what will happen to the Honest Ed's sign'?

So, let's get that one out of the way first. The sign is not part of what's proposed as there are two problems with it.

One is practical: the sign's components are integrated into—well, were drilled—directly into the walls years ago. It's not an easily movable object that one could unscrew from the all and hang someplace else. If the wall comes down, the sign's workings go with it, and any attempt to move and redisplay the sign means having to rebuild it entirely. David Mirvish has said in the past that just keep the sign working has been a major headache with its antiquated technology and decaying components.

The other is programmatic: the sign is simply larger than any space that Westbank is proposing to have on the site after the redevelopment. Westbank, and their team—made up of Henriquez Partners Architects, ERA Architects, Janet Rosenberg + Studio, Reshape Strategies, and Urban Strategies—is going with a "fine grain" approach, where buildings are broken up into smaller than normal floor plates, and where street retail resembles the shops that line our main streets already—with narrow storefronts and long shop spaces that go deep. The nearly block-long Honest Ed's sign just doesn't fit with that thrust.

Aerial view of Bloor and Bathurst, image courtesy of Westbank Corp.

So, what is being proposed here? As already alluded to, it's not a monolithic line of 40-storey condos. In fact there are no condos proposed here at all. Westbank is planning three rental apartment towers of 21, 22, and 29 storeys (the highest one closest to the corner of Bathurst and Bloor), and several much shorter mid-rise rental buildings, along with the retention of the Markham Street Victorians at the south end of the block.

North facing view of Markham Street, Bloor and Bathurst, image courtesy of Westbank Corp.

Known historically for its eclectic shops, galleries, and restaurants, Westbank is determined to preserve and enhance the lively mix in Mirvish Village, and where Honest Ed's now stands, Westbank envisions both narrow shops along Bloor and Bathurst, while in behind people will find a new public market, sheltered by an extensive skylight, but open to the outdoors. The lane that currently cuts between the two halves of Honest Ed's will join the public market to Bloor Street, while a new lane will be introduced east of Markham Street and be lined with micro-retailers, or start-up shops incubated by the Centre for Social Innovation, The Next Practice, and ThinkFresh: this will be known as Honest Ed's Alley.

Ground level plan, Bloor and Bathurst, image courtesy of Westbank Corp.

Markham Street will become a woonerf—no more curbs, but with bollards to keep traffic in the centre and to keep it slow—and entirely resurfaced with high quality pavements. Four pavement themes to be used across the site are being explored at the moment. Markham Street will become easily closable to traffic too, ready to be used for festivals, an occasionally expanded market, or events of many natures—potentially year-round, as the north end of the street will be sheltered from rain and snow by a long skylight as well.

Two more lanes will complete the circulation scheme; a widened north-south lane on the west edge of the site that will have space for community gardens along one side, and a new east-west lane to connect Markham Street, the public market, and Bathurst Street.

The bicycle infrastructure plan for the site is extensive, image courtesy of Westbank Corp.

Bicycling will be fostered by the redevelopment, not just through bike parking onsite, but through many facilities aimed to make the site a haven for those using active transportation to get around. A rental shop, repair shop, bike shop, and shower facilities, will join both public and residential parking areas for bikes one level below ground, and easily accessed via a ramp.

The cycling scheme is part of an overall plan to make the whole site sustainable. Green roofs and terraces will include trees where possible, while below ground, Westbank is exploring the use of geothermal heating and cooling to lessen the development's dependency on the power grid. The target is to build a compact, energy efficient community which will meet rigorous LEED Platinum standards.

South facing view of Bloor and Bathurst, image courtesy of Westbank Corp.

From within the site and across the street from it, the plan calls for many varied facades along each frontage, mirroring the visual energy of an area that has developed over time. With the Union Square area of Manhattan cited as a precedent in the collage below, window, balcony, and cladding treatments will change from one component building to the next.

Building frontages will be narrow and varied to prevent a monolithic look, image courtesy of Westbank Corp.

That variety will increase even more with a myriad of looks in the pedestrian zone at the base of the buildings to keep things lively. And, while the Honest Ed's sign will be gone, signage throughout the site will get special attention too, all part of a plan to honour the eclectic nature of our favourite shopping streets.

Bloor Street frontage, Bloor and Bathurst, image courtesy of Westbank Corp.

Public art will get as much attention here as the other facets of the area. Westbank intends to commission ten of the world's greatest graffiti artists to decorate walls in public areas across the site, while there will be other opportunities for installations as well. Westbank's first development in Toronto, the Shangri-La, demonstrates the company's commitment to enrichment of the public realm through art in the extraordinary figure of Rising, the the fantastical and anthropomorphic stainless steel sculpture which stops passersby on the sidewalk and pulls their eyes upwards to that building's articulated podium and soaring tower.

Composite floor plan of individual buildings, Bloor and Bathurst, image courtesy of Westbank Corp.

Above it all will be the residential suites, approximately 1000 of them, and all rentals, but with a great range of units with over half of them have two bedrooms or more. There will even be several 4 bedroom units here, and lots of 3 bedroom suites. Live/work units will appeal to entrepreneurs, art studio units will appeal to appeal to artists and artisans, while studios and union one bedrooms will appeal to students. The diverse mix of suites means that young professionals, families, and seniors will all find appealing accommodation here. Onsite daycare will be a help to couples with young children.

There is much more to tell about the Bloor and Bathurst proposal… and much more to come. While the March 3 presentation was received by the 500 people in attendance with an enthusiastic and sustained round of applause at the end, as with any proposal, feedback from the public will be considered, and the City's Planning Department will be assessing the plans against many further measures.

We will be back with more, but if you would like to see more now, we have several more renderings of Westbank's Bloor and Bathurst proposal in our dataBase file for the project, linked below. If you would like to talk about the plans, you can get in on the conversation in our associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

Related Companies:  BVGlazing Systems, Diamond Schmitt Architects, Doka Canada Ltd./Ltee, EQ Building Performance Inc., Janet Rosenberg & Studio, Snaile Inc., Tarra Engineering & Structural Consultants Inc, Urban Strategies Inc.