SHOW­ING FAITH IN THE FU­TURE

The Junc­tion’s old Al­ham­bra United Church is slowly be­ing con­verted into a condo/ loft de­vel­op­ment

National Post (Latest Edition) - - POST HOMES - Matthew Hague

Acen­tury ago, Toronto was known as the “city of churches.” Ernest Hem­ing­way, then a re­porter at the Toronto Daily Star, came up with the moniker, com­plain­ing in letters to friends that al­most ev­ery­one here chose to stay in sober on Satur­day nights so they could be up early to pray on Sun­day morn­ings.

These days, Toronto could eas­ily be de­scribed as the city of con­dos. And a de­vel­op­ment coming to 260 High Park aptly en­cap­su­lates that trans­for­ma­tion into a city where, since 2000, over 212,000 units have been built, a 250-per-cent in­crease from the pre­vi­ous two decades.

The four- storey, 70- unit condo is cur­rently be­ing built in the Junc­tion’s old Al­ham­bra United Church, at the corner of An­nette Street and High Park Av­enue. The struc­ture was orig­i­nally erected in 1908, in a neigh­bour­hood that from 1904 un­til 2000 banned the sale of al­co­hol. (No won­der Hem­ing­way left Toronto as soon as he could.) By 2015, the church was no longer ten­able as a house of wor­ship due to a dwin­dling con­gre­ga­tion and mount­ing re­pair bills.

Fa­ther- and- son de­vel­op­ers Chris and Mike Gi­amou, who co- run Medal­lion Cap­i­tal Group, set out to con­vert the Al­ham­bra four years ago. They were at­tracted in part by the build­ing’s neo- gothic ar­chi­tec­ture and liked the idea of in­cor­po­rat­ing its pointed arches and stained glass into their suites. They were also at­tracted by the neigh­bour­hood’s chang­ing dy­namic. Post- pro­hi­bi­tion, the once- quiet Junc­tion has flour­ished with lively bars, restau­rants and mi­cro-brew­eries. Home prices have also soared. Ac­cord­ing to Re/ Max, real es­tate val­ues there are now grow­ing faster than al­most any­where in the city, with a 7.1- per- cent in­crease in the past year alone; the aver­age abode in the area costs roughly $1.4 mil­lion.

“At 260 High Park, we’re try­ing to cre­ate the missing middle in hous­ing,” says Chris Gi­amou, not­ing that while many peo­ple want to buy into the Junc­tion, they of­ten can’t be­cause the hous­ing mix is largely lim­ited to high- priced sin­gle- fam­ily homes and a few low- or mid- rise de­vel­op­ments. Al­though the 15 suites in the old church will be large and lux­u­ri­ous, some with three bed­rooms and cost­ing over $ 3 mil­lion, Medal­lion is also build­ing a modern, 55- unit ad­di­tion ad­join­ing the orig­i­nal struc­ture, with 632- square- foot units start­ing at $ 750,000. “Hope­fully, this en­ables peo­ple to buy into a great neigh­bour­hood, start­ing at a lower price than the typical house,” says Chris Gi­amou.

Al­though 260 High Park has been pop­u­lar — more than 75 per cent of the build­ing was sold be­fore the project broke ground this Novem­ber — the process of re­zon­ing a her­itage church for a condo wasn’t easy. In to­tal, it took four years of per­mit ap­pli­ca­tions and com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tions be­fore the Gi­amou’s had ap­proval from the city.

“We re­ally had to roll up our sleeves to get it done,” says Mike Gi­amou. “We orig­i­nally thought we’d be fin­ished the build­ing within three to five years of pur­chas­ing the prop­erty.” Oc­cu­pancy is cur­rently ex­pected in 2021.

At one point, the Gi­amou’s had to re­design their scheme en­tirely. They orig­i­nally wanted a bold ap­proach, and planned to shroud the church in a box of glass. But many neigh­bours didn’t like the idea of such a rad­i­cal change. Work­ing with a team of three ar­chi­tec­ture firms, in­clud­ing ERA, Fine­gold Alexan­der and Turner Fleis­cher, they set­tled on a more sub­tle ap­proach, leav­ing the ex­te­rior of the church al­most un­touched (“We had to re­move some of the orig­i­nal stained glass to put in clear- glass win­dows for bet­ter day light­ing,” says Mike Gi­amou) and us­ing brick in the ad­di­tion’s façade that closely matched the church’s.

De­spite the com­plex­i­ties of re­zon­ing, the Gi­amou’s have per­sonal mo­ti­va­tions for see­ing the project through. Both have bought units in the build­ing, and both plan to move in af­ter the con­struc­tion is com­plete. “We love the area,” says Mike Gi­amou. “We want to live here. I’m mov­ing in with my daugh­ter.”

Fit­tingly, the ameni­ties are well- geared to fam­ily en­ter­tain­ing. A large lounge in the new ad­di­tion, for ex­am­ple, will have a modern shared kitchen and fire­side din­ing room for big get- to­geth­ers, as well as lots of comfy couches to re­lax post- meal. The lounge has French doors that will open up to a ter­race over­look­ing the area’s for­est- like tree canopy.

“All the green­ery is one of the rea­sons we put in a rooftop gar­den and BBQ,” says Chris Gi­amou, re­fer­ring to the al fresco space that spreads across the top of the build­ing. “We imag­ine a lot of peo­ple will want to spend time out­doors.”

They might even sip a cock­tail while they’re at it.

Units start­ing f rom $ 750,000. Suite sizes from 632 square feet to 3,081 square feet.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit 260high­park.com.

Some of the lux­ury units in the Junc­tion’s old Al­ham­bra United Church will be large, cost­ing more than $3 mil­lion. Fifty-five other units are planned start­ing at $750,000.

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