A Toronto developer is taking over Yorkville one property at a time

First Capital owns 12 buildings in the historic neighbourhood

Yorkville is set to undergo major changes in its future with increased densification and more high-end brands in the area — and one developer is leading the way.

First Capital Realty has become a big influence in the direction of Yorkville after acquiring up to 400,000 square feet of property in the area with a portfolio of a whopping 12 buildings that are home to such businesses as Chanel, Versace and Nordstrom Rack.

First Capital set its sights on Yorkville 10 years ago due to its density of high-income earners, according to its director of real estate for Yorkville, Eric Sherman.

The company first redeveloped Hazelton Lanes into what is now Yorkville Village and since then has invested over $700 million into the area’s commercial and residential real estate, according to Sherman.

First Capital’s large stake in Yorkville allows it to act like a “curator,” Sherman said, to create an “integrated experience” in the area, basically, turning Yorkville into something akin to an open air mall. So someone could shop, get nails done and grab lunch all at its luxurious properties.

“[All of the shops are] done purposefully to integrate with one another,” Sherman said.

“We’re not making any decisions in a vacuum or what would be the best for a specific project. It’s what’s the best for an overall neighbourhood development plan.”

But is that too much influence for a neighbourhood already struggling with a high level of development and a battle to retain some of its historic identity?

 

The Chanel store
The Chanel store

Co-chair of the ABC Residents Association, John Caliendo, who has lived in the area for nearly 30 years, said he is not concerned about one company snatching up a large amount of real estate in the area because of the work it has done thus far.

“They’ve demonstrated to us that they are committed to the neighbourhood long-term,” Caliendo said, mentioning in particular the Versace and Brunello Cucinelli stores that turned what he said were undesirable buildings into good additions that “fit the street wall perfectly.”

Caliendo said other developers would have demanded to build four or five stories for those buildings, whereas First Capital only built one to maintain the low-rise Victorian profile of the neighbourhood.

“I think the community would rather have it in their [First Capital’s] hands than the hands of other people who are looking for a quick profit,” he said.

Caliendo has had his share of fights with less co-operative developers as the neighbourhood has evolved from a hippie haven of the 1960s into the luxury retail destination of today.

He said the residents association has fought hard to protect the neighbourhood’s character from overzealous condo developers who targeted the area beginning around 2002.

Caliendo said ABC succeeded about 10 years ago in creating a “historic conservation district” that protected the heritage of the core Yorkville village, which includes Hazelton Lane and parts of Scollard Street, from the encroachment of highrises.

Beyond the village’s protected zone, other historic buildings are protected on a case-by-case basis, such as the old Mount Sinai Hospital on Yorkville Avenue that remained largely intact as First Capital transformed it into a new Chanel store.

Sherman said the company is embracing the smaller streets and storefronts of the village, adding that those features actually fit in with larger global trends that are moving away from the traditional high street, such as near Bloor Street and Yonge Street, to more pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood environments.

He envisions Yorkville village as a health- and wellness-focused area where residents and visitors can live an “elevated lifestyle.”

However, Caliendo is concerned that developers’ focus on the high end will leave the area as a “Disneyland for the wealthy,” with no room left for services lower-income earners in the area need.

“You can’t sterilize the neighbourhood too much,” he said. “There’s only so many people who want to shop at Louis Vuitton every day.”

Although ABC tries to pressure landlords to include smaller service providers, Caliendo said they haven’t gotten much traction in their fight.

Bloor-Yorkville BIA executive director Briar de Lange explained that there’s something for everyone in the area, with more affordable stores such as Zara’s, H&M, the Bay, Longo’s and Rabba.

 

John Daniels House
John Daniels House — one of the area’s many historic buidings

“[You] can still find lunch here for under 10 bucks,” she said.

Toronto councillor Mike Layton said the city has requested some developers look into incorporating services the area needs into their buildings, and the city will do a comprehensive evaluation to determine those needs.

“We’ve got to make sure that the neighbourhood has some of the very essential things that one needs to live and to have a high quality of life,” he said, mentioning there’s also talk of a new community centre in the area.

Pressuring developers to include needed services is necessary, Layton said, because there is very little space left.

Yorkville is set to densify even more drastically in the near future as a number of new condos are being built, such as One Bloor, which will be the tallest condo in Canada at 80 storeys.

Sherman predicts the number of condo units will double in the next five years from its current 10,000 units.

This increased density is a concern for the city, Layton said, and it is taking steps to address potential problems.

He said Yonge subway station will be upgraded with the help of federal money to improve the flow of people within the station. he also points out that Ramsden Park, a little north of Yorkville, was renovated to provide open green space for residents.

De Lange, for one, sees the extra people as a positive.

“[The developments are] a transformation. It’s going to bring more life vibrancy to the neighborhood,” she said.

“Everybody’s going to benefit.”