North of Bloor and South of Eglinton: in both the geographic and cultural landscape, that's Yonge and St. Clair. Flanked by growing urban hubs along the Yonge corridor, the intersection is now arguably less defined by what it is than what's around it. As quoted in the National Post, local councillor Josh Matlow describes the area as "a place between" as opposed to a destination in its own right.
Though still a dense urban node, recent decades have eroded the area's vibrancy. As a prominent mid-to-late 20th century hub of theatre and high-end retail, the Yonge and St. Clair neighbourhood has gradually slipped from the city's cultural radar. Despite the surrounding community's continued prosperity, the intersection is no longer the destination it once was. While Bloor and Eglinton continue to prosper—perhaps drawing some attraction away from St. Clair—the prominent retailers and restaurateurs that once characterized the area a noticeably fewer in number. It's hard to say exactly why.
Assessing the neighbourhood, the Post's Chris Selley describes a "once-proud neighbourhood" reduced to "[a] proliferation of dollar stores and nail salons." At the same time, sites in the area have come under development pressure. Just last year, Terracan's proposal for a 42-storey tower just south of St. Clair at 1421 Yonge—now under appeal at the OMB—proved a particularly contentious issue for members of the community.
According to Slate Asset Management's Lucas Manuel, interest from developers may actually be contributing to the current doldrums. While new density and development is likely to boost vitality in the long term, Manuel explains that the "land assembly" and approvals process can create "a somewhat temporary," transient retail environment. Along with the inevitable urban rhythms that see the popularity of neighbourhoods wax and wane, impending development may play a role in the temporary stagnation. (As reported in the Post, Matlow cites the same phenomenon as an influential factor in the area's decline).
Whether or not high-rise towers add to density to the area in coming years, Manuel describes a plan that will change the face of the neighbourhood without changing its skyline. Since 2013, Slate has consolidated eight office towers—and over ten properties in total—in the area, including all four buildings fronting the intersection. After taking over five buildings from GE Capital's portfolio in 2013, Slate purchased an additional three buildings in the years since. The company now owns "approximately 60%" of the properties along the St. Clair corridor at Yonge, Manuel tells us. Change is already underway.
At the Yonge and St. Clair intersection, Slate now owns the properties at all four corners: 1 St. Clair Avenue East, 1 St. Clair Avenue West, 2 St Clair Avenue West, and 2 St. Clair Avenue East. Immediately to the west, the company also owns the buildings on the north side of the street at 30 and 40 St. Clair. Slightly further afield, the south side property at 55 St. Clair is also part of the portfolio. East of the intersection, the building at 21 St. Clair East is also held by Slate. Working in partnership with Greystone Managed Investments Inc., Slate is working towards revitalizing the (mostly mid-to-late 20th century) properties, with a particular emphasis on improved street-level experience.
The monopolized ownership of land provides an uncommon opportunity for redevelopment. "Having a single landlord at all four corners of a major urban intersection is basically unprecedented," Manuel explains. The consolidated ownership allows for quick and co-ordinated modernization initiative, with the revitalization of the four corners planned to be completed within two years. While the entire portfolio of properties will eventually be refreshed, Manuel promises that the street-level conditions at the intersection itself will change substantially by 2018.
At the northeast corner, the Gensler-designed retrofit of the building at 2 St. Clair Avenue East will meet the street with a simplified—and more engaging—frontage. Removing the low-rise podium to facilitate an expanded sidewalk, the exisitng TD Bank branch will engage more directly with the street, while a new Starbucks is planned immediately to the north. (Like much of the land northeast of the intersection, surrounding properties are owned by the Weston family, and part of the project is being undertaken collaboratively).
Like three of the four corners, the northeast site will continue to be a occupied by a bank. Immediately to the south, the Scotiabank building at 1 St. Clair East will also be retrofitted by Gensler. At the base, a contemporary glass envelope will create a lighter and more transparent street-level presence, reducing the apparent bulk of the structure.
Directly across Yonge, the Padulo Building at 1 St. Clair West will see a new mural "by British street artist Phlegm" join the CIBC branch on the corner, says Manuel. While "banks are great," the inclusion of a more eye-catching an engaging presence could help animate what is currently a somewhat sterile streetscape.
At the northwest corner, the tower at 2 St. Clair West will "become home to a new restaurant," Manuel tells us. Replacing the Gateway Newsstands retailer that currently occupies the tower's generously extruded base structure, a restaurant space will "take advantage of the high ceilings" while bringing a much more engaging presence to the streetscape. With the revitalization overseen by Page + Steele / IBI Group, this building will also be home to an outpost of the JJ Bean cafe chain. The cafe interior will be appointed by Dialog.
A short hop west, the property at 55 St. Clair will also be revitalized by Page + Steele / IBI Group. (Appropriately, this building houses the IBI Group offices). In addition, WZMH Architects have also been retained for work on some of Slate's other local properties, while a neighbourhood streetscaping program is being undertaken by Gensler and DTAH. Developed in partnership with the City of Toronto—and councillor Matlow's office—the streetscaping plan will see new planters and seating installed around the intersection. Fostering a more inviting and humane place to linger, Manuel hopes that the improved street-level amenities will return some vitality to the area.
In a city continuously transformed by new density, the revitalization of Yonge and St. Clair provides an interesting contrast to the prevailing pattern. If the neighbourhood does spark back to life, the change may not be predominantly driven by new development and a rapid influx of density. The buildings are already there, but a sense of place—for the moment—is not.
We will keep you updated as the Yonge and St. Clair area continues to evolve, and Slate's unprecedented redevelopment of the existing neighbourhood takes shape. Want to share your thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment in the space below this page.