IT TOOK 100 YEARS BUT A TOWER BEGINS TO RISE
At the northwest corner of Yonge and Gerrard streets yesterday, excavators scooped and clawed speedily and hungrily at the soil as if making up for lost time.
“We’re moving very fast,” acknowledged Riz Dhanji, vice-president of sales and marketing for Toronto developer Canderel Stoneridge. “What we want to do is create a landmark.”
It took a full century and several tries before a company pulled it off, but towering architecture is finally taking shape in the College Park area. Several weeks after the machines showed up and started hauling away dirt, the developer will host Mayor David Miller and Councillor Kyle Rae for an official groundbreaking today for Aura, one of several new buildings shining beams of light and colour onto a part of town known for an aura of dull grey.
Aura in particular promises to dramatically alter the look of Toronto’s skyline thanks to its height and its relative distance from other supertall towers. Measuring 75 storeys and 243 metres, the condominium is set to become the tallest residential building in Canada, unless one includes the mixed residential-and-hotel Trump Tower, now rapidly climbing at Bay and Adelaide. (The Trump will have fewer floors, at 59.) Aura will smash the height record for the city north of Queen Street, currently held by Minto’s Quantum North at Yonge and Eglinton.
While the developer said Aura is more than 97% sold, take heart: The $17.5-million penthouse, with its 13-foot ceilings and 360-degree views, is available, Mr. Dhanji said. The developer offers an optimistic move-in day of 2012.
Aura will join other condo projects adding thousands of residents to the area:
❚ The 45-and 35-storey twin towers of Murano on Bay north of College, where movein for residents finished last month. Developer Lanterra is also building Burano across the street. It is now climbing above the hoardings and should be completed in 2012.
❚ The 30-storey Lumiere condominium down the street by Menkes, which will be completed this year.
❚ The completed Residences of College Park, standing 154 and 140 metres tall (51 and 45 storeys respectively) on Bay just north of Gerrard, the height of which is not quite in the Aura-sphere, but remains impressive. The Residences were also built by Canderel Stoneridge.
Before these condos came along, the area stretching from roughly Grosvenor Street down to Gerrard, and between Bay and Yonge, had long remained a relative dead zone in the north-central section of downtown.
Mr. Dhanji said seven years ago, much of the local retail space was unleased and pedestrian traffic was light. “You would come in this neighbourhood and it was the scariest thing. That Yonge and College area was considered not so appealing,” he said.
“You had this vibrant retail strip going up Yonge Street from Dundas Square, and at Gerrard it sort of stopped,” said Shawn Micallef, editor of Yonge Street magazine and the author of the forthcoming book Stroll: Psychogeographic Walks Through Toronto. He said the “ugly hole” of the parking lot formerly at Yonge and Gerrard was partly to blame for the void at the halfway point between Queen and Bloor.
Mr. Micallef approves of Aura, calling it “a really, really tall skyscraper in the right spot,” and noted its construction fulfills long-held hopes for the area.
Mark Obaldeston’s 2008 book Unbuilt Toronto describes how defunct department store chain Eaton’s began assembling land at Yonge between College and Gerrard in 1910. The company imagined it could pull downtown Toronto’s centre of gravity north from King Street. In 1928, it announced a project sprawling across the entire block, capped by a majestic, 204-metre-tall tower.
“The Depression hit, and all we got was this nice Eaton’s, which is the Winners now,” Mr. Micallef said.
Eaton’s dreamed wild dreams for the site once again in the early 1970s, when it teamed up with developer John Maryon to create a plan for a supertall, 140-storey tower on the site. Not surprisingly, the idea appears not to have gone very far. Canderel Stoneridge president Michael La Brier, fresh from fighting to build the comparatively modest Aura, laughed at the technical and financial challenge of trying to build such a massive building during the 1970s.
“Show me the doable and I’ll show you a good project,” Mr. La Brier said. Building Aura, he said, was fiscally practical given the unique size and position of the parcel of land the company acquired in 2006. “It was never about us being bigger than anybody else.”
Today is the official groundbreaking for Aura, which at 243 metres is to become the tallest residential building in Canada. The penthouse is going for $17.5-million.