IT TOOK 100 YEARS BUT A TOWER BE­GINS TO RISE

National Post (Latest Edition) - - TORONTO - BY ADAM MCDOW­ELL

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.”

CAN­DEREL STONERIDGE

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.

JONATHON RIVAIT / NA­TIONAL POST

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