Recession can't slow city's big-tower boom
Adam McDowell, National Post
Published: Tuesday, January 19, 2010
A crane was assembled at the corner of Bay and Harbour streets in recent weeks, and Scott Dickson rejoiced.
Tower geeks such as Mr. Dickson had feared that the fourth tower of the Pinnacle Centre development, kitty-corner from the Air Canada Centre, had been felled by the recession. Its name, which seemed ironic at the time, was Success Tower II.
Like virtually the entire complement of Toronto's planned mega-skyscrapers, which includes 18,400-metre-plus monoliths under construction at the moment, Success II survived the rough winds of the recession without its financing toppling over.
"I think Toronto's been largely immune [to the recession],'' Mr. Dickson said yesterday. ''Look at house prices; bidding wars are happening again. I don't know what's going to happen, I just know we're going to have cranes in the air for the next five, six, seven years."
Whereas the early 1990s recession killed off many high-rise projects both commercial and residential -- memorably leaving behind the famous Bay and Adelaide stump in the core for years -- observers are emerging from the most recent one, and noticing that the skyline of a few years from now remains as tall and shiny as ever.
"Toronto looks like a boom city," said Mr. Dickson, the owner of a boutique firm called Upside Down Marketing & Design, who used Photoshop to cook up a rendering of Toronto's skyline as of 2014, as seen from Marina Del Rey, next to Etobicoke's Humber Bay Park.
"It's kind of an exciting time to be a skyscraper geek. Everything is getting bigger in Toronto. I remember when 30 storeys was a big deal. Now 50 storeys is the norm
Twenty-three of Toronto's 65 buildings standing 122 metres (400 feet) or taller have been completed during the past five years, and at least another 15 are scheduled to be added to the total by 2014.
The city's collection of skyscrapers, in other words, will have almost doubled from 42 to 80 in the space of a decade.
Mr. Dickson said the coming 75-storey Aura condo tower at Yonge and College, now at the excavation stage, is the one to watch for. "It's a big boy. That's going to change the skyline the most, I think. There's still a chance they're going to ask for another 10 floors, too."
Shawn Micallef, a senior editor at Spacing magazine, managing editor of the new online magazine Yonge Street and a pioneer "psychogeographer," observed that the mad building boom will not truly be felt until the buildings are actually built.
"Skyscrapers just sort of seem to appear," he said.
"In our peripheral vision, we see all these cranes and towers going up but they don't register until someone moves in and flicks on a light switch. All of a sudden there's a light where it doesn't belong. That's why I'm always struck by the sight of them. 'Oh, there are more people in the sky.' "
One tower that will need to be removed from Mr. Dickson's future sky is One Bloor East, a project that got as far as clearing the southeast corner of Yonge and Bloor before shutting down. The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers erased developer Bazis International's financing arrangement. Now the site belongs to Great Gulf Homes, but no tower design has been released.
"All the geeks are sitting on their hands waiting for something," said Mr. Dickson. "There was a rumour that it was going to be in the 65-storey range."
Success Tower II, in the meantime, simply changed names and is now being marketed as 33 Bay. It will rise up to 46 storeys; tall, but not colossal by the standards of 2010s Toronto. If all goes well, the lights will go on in October of next year.
This spring, its developer, Pinnacle International, will open a sales centre for its next project, a 46-storey condo tower at Adelaide and John, said sales and marketing director Anson Kwok yesterday.
It will be one of several major Entertainment District projects to come in a localized mini-boom over the next decade. As Mr. Kwok said, "Stay tuned."
PUTTIN' UP THE RITZ
The Ritz-Carlton is set to win the four-way race to become Toronto's first super-luxury hotel.
It is at full height, 53 storeys at Wellington and Simcoe, and just weeks away from being fully enclosed. Meantime, two others competing in the five-star race, Yorkville's Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and the Trump International downtown, are both still below 17 storeys. And, at the corner of University and Adelaide, the Shangri-La has only recently returned to ground level after going deep for parking.
When the Ritz-Carlton opens in October, it will have at least a six-month edge on the three other developments, all combining world-class hotels with deluxe condominiums. But by the second quarter of 2012, these four projects will deliver just under 1,000 five-star hotel rooms to the Toronto market.
"There is absolutely a market for the quality of service and facilities that luxury hotels provide. And in Toronto we really haven't had that previously," said Tim Terceira, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton. "I think it's great for Toronto and I think it's great for each other as well. It's very healthy."
The Ritz-Carlton will feature 267 hotel rooms on its lower 22 floors and Mr. Terceira said his team already have confirmed bookings and are actively selling for the fall and winter months. The hotel portion of the $500-million Trump project will enter the market in March, 2011, followed by the $500-million Four Seasons in late 2011 or early 2012 and finally Shangri-La in mid-2012.
Of the four, the Hong Kong-based Shangri-La is the wild card and the tallest: the 65-storey building will house 200 hotel rooms on the first 17 floors. "Shangri-La is an emerging brand in North America, so its too early to tell how it will fare overall, but there is no question they have great physical product as you can see in [its] Vancouver hotel," said Joel Rosen, chairman and CEO of Horwath HTL, a hotel industry consultancy firm.
Steve Darley, National Post