"2016 is going to be a very big year for Union Station," Osmington Inc. CEO Lawrence Zucker tells us. As head of the company selected by the City of Toronto as the head lessee of Union Station's new retail landscape, Zucker guides us through the cultural transformation of the revitalizing station, which—as Canada's premier rail hub—is set to become "more than just a transit point, but a destination in its own right. We want it to become a place that reflects the spirit of Toronto, and a place for Torontonians to be proud of."
With Union Station's west side York Concourse now open—and the east side Bay Concourse in the early stages of a comprehensive overhaul—the first signs of Osmington's approach to creating a vibrant 165,000 ft² new retail hub are already in place.
With "Canada's first stand-alone McCafé location recently opened in the West Concourse (above), and a Burger's Priest and Union Chicken set to open in the York Promenade," Zucker explains that Osmington's carefully curated tenants will offer a combination of instantly recognizable brand names and "artisanal, Toronto-centric retailers."
While the upper-level York Concourse McCafé is set to be joined by Uncle Tetsu's, Starbucks, Booster Juice, and INS News, the Toronto-based Burger's Priest and the first-of-its-kind Union Chicken—a brainchild of the Carbon Bar's Yannick Bigourdan—will neighbour an Italian/Asian concept restaurant that has yet to be unveiled.
Located down a short ramp and north of the York Concourse, the York Street Promenade restaurants will be neighboured by a food court (directly below the York Concourse), while a 'Fresh Market,' which Zucker describes as "a smaller version of St. Lawrence Market" is set to take shape below Union Station's central VIA Concourse. Union's retail interiors are being designed by the young but award-winning Toronto architecture and design firm PARTISANS.
"The Fresh Market will bring together a collection of some of Toronto's best local retailers," says Zucker. "We want it to be a place that's much more than just a stop-over on the way home, with the best of Toronto's food retailers gathered under one roof." While the Fresh Market targets a 2018 opening, the upper-level York Concourse retail is expected to by fully open by April, and the food court—which targets a higher level of design and more independent retailers than usually found in malls—will likely be operational by the end of 2016 (below).
The York Street Promenade's restaurants are also expected to be open by late 2016, together with the Front Street Promenade retail area to the east.
The Front Street Promenade (seen below in the midst of reconstruction and restoration) will feature an eclectic mix of independent and corporate retailers including Loding Shoes and Zuckers Candy Bar.
Directly above the York Street Promenade, Union Station's west wing retail area—which leads out to the Skybridge—already features an Ontario Travel centre, an important resource for many visitors to the city. Alongside Ontario Travel and the historic "ladies' retiring space" currently being restored on site, new retailers are expected to add to the west wing in the relatively near future.
Union Station's Great Hall will also undergo a significant improvement, with the north side of the space set to have its 1970s accretions ripped out before becoming a restaurant—opening in 2018—which will feature a second floor terrace overlooking the deceptively grand space. "People often walk through the great hall looking down at their feet, without realizing how beautiful and historically rich the space is," reflects Zucker. "We want to change that."
Meanwhile, the east wing of the station largely remains in a more raw state, with the former Bay Concourse—now being reconstructed—closed earlier this year after the York Concourse opened. Unlike the west wing, which will feature a plethora of restaurants and cafes, the east wing—which will form the last phase of the revitalization project—will be devoted to non-food retail space. Like the retailers now taking shape in the York Concourse, however, we can expect the Bay Concourse's retailers to form a diverse reflection of Toronto.
"We're prepared to take some risks by bringing in smaller, local retailers," Zucker tells us, explaining that the combination of local and artisanal tenants with larger corporate outlets will help to make Union Station a more vibrant and creative hub of Downtown life. "With a space so unique and central—seeing over 71 million visitors a year—we wanted to create a retail environment that really represents our city."
With TD Bank recently announced as Union Station's Founding Sponsor and exclusive Financial Services Provider, "we can expect Union Station to become more of a cultural hub," Zucker adds. "The partnership goes well beyond providing ATMs and banking services throughout the station. In addition to providing free high-speed wi-fi and seating areas across Union Station, the partnership with TD is founded on a city-building vision, with a plan for more pop-up cultural events and artistic programming in the future." Having recently worked with TiFF and Nuit Blanche, Zucker is confident that TD's progressive support will bring much more cultural diversity and wealth to Union Station over the coming years.
A newly internalized Front Street Moat—to be covered by long skylight—will also provide a smooth, protected transition between the PATH and Union Station on the west side, plus PATH and the TTC on the east side. A completion date—and exact information about future retail and programming—has yet to become available.
We will keep you updated with the Union Station revitalization as Toronto's rail hub continues its historic transformation. In the meantime, many more recent photos will give you a fuller idea of the extent of the work now underway. You can find them on this page of our dedicated Forum thread, or for more information on and renderings of the revitalization project, visit our dataBase file for it, linked below. You can also get involved in the aforementioned discussion in thread, or leave a comment at the bottom of this page.
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