The National Post
This is banal, but true. The northwest corner of Queen and Gladstone used to be memorable for one thing only: as a danger to your feet. The sidewalk sagged so extremely that southbound buses careening around the corner inevitably mounted the pavement.
Then the city built a $40-million underpass, allowing TTC rockets to zip straight down Dufferin Street instead of taking the dicey detour. Problem fixed.
As for that corner, it’s about to become known for much more than its wonky sidewalk. A jazzy multi-condo complex is coming, care of mid-rise infill specialists Streetcar Developments (streetcar.ca). At 20 storeys, the highest of the three structures will be The Carnaby. Its mates, 2 Gladstone and 8 Gladstone, are already in advanced stages of stylishness — the former is occupied, while the hard hats are in full swing at Number 8.
The move to the city’s cool-cat west end is a departure for Streetcar, which has always stayed east and has never built higher than 12 storeys. “We love Queen West. We like the vibe. We saw it as an area in transition,” says Streetcar builder Les Mallins, spreading out a drawing of the buildings on a table in his Riverdale office. “Part of the appeal was being able to start on the west side on such a prominent site, right across from the historic Gladstone Hotel.”
Building bigger was daunting at first. “There’s a different architecture and materiality that’s appropriate for a 45-storey tower, which you typically see out of glass, versus the options if you’re doing an eight- to 14-storey building,” he says of The Carnaby. “The scale lends itself to more of a variety of materials, such as stucco and masonry. For part of this project, we’re using a new composite clay-like charcoal grey tile. It’s pretty cool.”
Cool also describes the ambitious vision for the site. Remember those chips with mayonnaise you ate outdoors on a side street in Amsterdam? This European model, based on slowing life to a piazza pace, will be recreated in a laneway here between the condos. (Though you’ll more likely be sipping a maple latté instead of eating fries, the sentiment is similar.) Trailing the Carnaby’s base will be non-residential artist studios; on the south end of Queen will be a Metro grocery store — with 95 parking spots — perhaps an LCBO and other retail to animate the project.
The buzzy zone is why Mr. Mallins named the building after London’s famous shopping district. “We were looking for an identity for the street we’re creating down the middle with its pedestrian connection. The artist spaces will retain the character that gave West Queen West its vibe to begin with. All of a sudden, the huge landlocked warehouse building is going to be porous, and filled with people and bikes.”
Reactions to Carnaby, he says, have been good. “We’ve probably sold 125 of the 200.” (2 Gladstone is sold out and only seven out of 90 units remain at 8 Gladstone.)
There will be lots to admire when the structure, by architectural firm TACT Design, is finished. The southern portion will be wrapped in textured precast concrete, detailed with strong visual lines, which form the balconies. The lobby will display double-height windows and cantilevered wall planes that illuminate so they spill on to the street, while the lofts — tailored for contemporary coolness by Seven Haus — feature nine-foot-high exposed concrete ceilings, and chic bathrooms and kitchens. Pads are named with a nod to the Brits: Tweed (491 square feet), Pinstripe (663 sq. ft.), Herringbone (885 sq. ft.) and start in the mid-$200,000s for a one-bedroom.
As noted, Mr. Mallins plans to build additional condos to the north. “And then there’s another proposal,” he says. “You know those white warehouses that are on the other side of Dufferin? There’s a development proposal in for that for another 420 units, but that’s not me. We’ve got our hands full.”
Sure enough, on a stroll through the area with Sal, an upbeat real estate investor who prefers to go by his first name and who purchased two of the smaller units at Carnaby, there’s the sign announcing the 420 newcomers Mr. Mallins was referring to. Farther still on Argyle is another telling sign of where the neighbourhood’s headed: Across from a row of older homes, a black billboard advertises townhomes by Great Gulf starting at $1-million.
“Before I buy anything, I research the areas. I walk through alleys and neighbourhoods with my co-pilot, Coco.” He’s referring to his German Shorthair Pointer who is springing across people’s lawns sporting a very hip blue bandana (when in Rome). “And I follow where Starbucks opens.”
Driving through the city in his black Bentley, pickup truck or motorcycle, Sal isn’t exactly your average buyer. He owns a substantial number of condos in the city, but his knowledge of the housing market and passion for it is admirable. “I started out doing stints as supply teacher, but I felt like I was babysitting,” he says. “I turned to real estate because I love it. This is play for me. I come from an immigrant family, and my dad used to say, ‘We left our country because we were hungry.’ This is the land of opportunity.”
As an investor, he also does his due diligence. “I just got back from Chicago to specifically look at real estate, and I can tell you we live in the best city in the world,” he says, citing San Francisco and Boston among other scouted cities. “I really don’t think people in Toronto know what we have. In New York, there are parking spots that cost as much as what I just paid for a condo.” (This sounds excessive, but he insists it’s true.)
“This is inexpensive for being close to downtown,” Sal notes. “This is prime access to whatever goes down at the waterfront — a casino or a hotel. Get in early before the rest of the world catches on.”