Toronto and the surrounding region are swelling with new development, and the drive to develop under-utilized land is bringing about a reassessment of lower-density properties; those with vast parking lots are particularly inviting to intensify. Large redevelopment sites open the doors to creating new master-planned communities where buildings can be designed to interact with one another while framing new public spaces. Several such communities are coming to the GTA, and ELAD Canada is one developer that has made a name for itself in creating these new neighbourhoods from scratch.
We recently had the chance to speak with Rafael Lazer, CEO at ELAD Canada, to discuss the company ethos shaping these communities, and what is in store for the future.
UT: With Emerald City in North York as a prime example, ELAD Canada is known for developing master-planned communities. What attracts ELAD to these grander projects?
RL: We are drawn to large-scale communities that bring together a mix of uses including residential, recreational and commercial and are excited by transforming under-utilized land to become vibrant neighbourhoods. We believe that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that when you have such a critical mass of units and buildings, it gives you the opportunity to uplift a community.
Can you expand on what goes into a master-planned community? What components of a master-planned community are resonating more with buyers now?
We are designing our master-planned communities today with residents in mind, and actively engaging community members to discover what is most important to them. We truly believe in building communities that are built by the community. Through strategic urban planning and working with local communities, we have found that greenspace, transit, and family-friendly amenities such as playgrounds, community centres, childcare facilities, and thoughtful retail offerings such as grocery stores are important. We seek to include aspects in our master plans that complement existing uses. For example, in the upcoming Lansing Square we are developing an office building along with condos that enhance the existing office node, while in Galleria on the Park we are transforming the under-utilized retail offering and creating life at grade. In all our master-planned communities we have provided an affordable housing component and believe this is a step in the right direction towards providing housing for all. And finally, the multi-phased aspect of a master plan benefits our purchasers as there is more opportunity for appreciation and value enhancement over the lifecycle of the project.
Why are master-planned communities popular in large cities like Toronto?
Toronto is ripe with development opportunities and building master-planned communities that provide enhanced infrastructure, enriched amenities that cater to the everyday experience, and the opportunity for work-life balance will continue to attract international awareness and migration. World-class cities achieve their status by recognizing the importance of mixed-use, transit and pedestrian-oriented neighbourhoods, and connected communities. There are so many layered elements that go into creating a sense of community. From developing a road and path network for optimal access to the location of amenities, and the relationship between buildings a master plan is created in harmony so that these layers complement each other. This serves as the foundation for creating a thriving sense of community.
Galleria on the Park has seen success with brisk sales of initial phases. Can you tell us what set the project apart from others for buyers?
Toronto is a growing city that is benefitting from key economic factors such as low interest rates, immigration, and low housing supply. This, along with the unique cultural diversity of the city drive the strong real estate market that allows for positive gains for both the end-user and investor. Galleria on the Park is uniquely positioned near the downtown core and serves as a strong value proposition for those who want to experience urban living within a mixed-use community, with access to public transit, and ample greenspace, a brand new 95,000 ft² community centre and 300,000 ft² of retail at an affordable price relative to its downtown Toronto counterparts. We started construction on our initial phase 10 months following our first sale, following an overwhelming response from buyers.
How did COVID-19 affect your projects, in terms of both construction and sales?
Our construction sites have continued to operate, and in fact, we broke ground on Galleria 01/02 in the middle of the pandemic in August of last year. We quickly pivoted our sales office operations to allow for virtual sales and now offer the option of either virtual or in-person, private appointments while adhering to all public health guidelines. Initially, when Ontario first entered lockdown in March, 2020 we saw buyers exercising caution and showing signs of uncertainty. This lasted for a few months, and following pent-up demand, the market saw a sharp increase in sales. Since the reopening of the economy globally, and following vaccination rollout, we have seen steady interest in pre-construction condos. The Toronto real estate market has shown its resiliency, even amidst a global pandemic.
You recently reached a milestone at Emerald City, selling out nearly 3,000 units. What were some of the lessons learned from that project and how have you applied those learnings to Galleria on the Park?
Emerald City is a combination of aspiration and patience. Having started sales in 2008, we will close our last buildings in 2022. Not only did we gather insights from community members and stakeholders at the start of the project, but the fact that we phased our development meant that we could be nimble in our response to market conditions and demands. We learned the importance of having amenities such as public art, greenspaces and a community centre incorporated into the construction process early on, so that residents could benefit from this from the moment they moved in—not having to wait until the end of a project to reap the reward. At Galleria, we are following suit, coupling the first phase of the park and community centre with the first phase of residences. From an investment perspective, we saw our purchasers reap the benefits of investing with us early in the project. With master-planned communities, the developer and the purchaser are aligned by taking a forward-thinking view believing in the opportunity for long-term appreciation.
Is there a building at Galleria on the Park you are most excited about?
My favourite building is Galleria III as it is the flagship building marking the entryway of the development. The unique triangular shape of the site created this iconic flatiron architecture that sets it apart from its neighbours. The angle of the building allows for nearly 50% of suites to have beautiful views of the new park to the south and/or the downtown skyline to the east.
What are some of the aspects of Galleria III that set it apart from 01&02 and make it stand out in the community?
Situated at the entrance of the entire community, Galleria III will feature two storeys of retail at grade offering food, beverage and personal services. At the foot of the building is our pedestrian mews which connects to the POPS space and spills out to the eight-acre park. We envision this entryway as a place where residents and community members alike can walk through, grab a coffee with their friends and family, people watch, and spend time in the park.
What types of demographics are these developments attracting?
Now selling our third tower, we have seen a wide range of demographics come to our site. Not surprisingly, a lot of our buyers have been people who live in the community today—they are either looking for their first home purchase and they want to live where their families are, or they are investing as they believe in the positive transformation of the west end. Many of our suites have been designed with families in mind with a focus on larger living spaces that extend outside to the suite’s balcony or terrace. We have purposefully designed our suites to be larger in size compared to other downtown core suits. Overall, our buyers are seeking an urban lifestyle with access to transit, close proximity to downtown combined with the great culture and neighbourhood feel that Dupont West already has.
You can learn more about ELAD's latest master-planned community currently in sales at the Galleria on the Park presentation centre. Located at 1152 Dupont Street, the space—which we've explored in a previous article—is open by appointment only, Mondays through Thursdays from 12-6 PM and weekends from 12-5 PM.
Additional information and images can be found in our Database file for the project, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.
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