National Post (Latest Edition)
‘Nothing takes the edge off a lockdown like an outdoor pool.” So says Amanda Gill en route to the 13th floor of Tridel Corp.’s Aqualina condo development at Queens Quay and Sherbourne. Newly accessible to residents in accordance with Stage 2 of Ontario’s COVID-19 reopening plan, the stylish swimming spot is the centrepiece of an expansive rooftop terrace with a sun deck and barbecue dining alcoves.
The amenities in the 363- unit building were off- limits to everyone since early March; now, a new online booking system limits pool users to 10 at a time. Gill is pleased to have secured a time slot in what she considers an urban oasis. “It’s the next best thing to the Caribbean — not that I’m going there any time soon,” the thirtysomething adds, rolling her eyes.
Resort- style amenities such as those topping Aqualina have long been popular selling points for condos, but they’re giving vendors additional traction right now among condo hunters whose travel options, and spending, have been curtailed for the foreseeable future.
“Whether it’s travel, dining out, sporting events or concerts, spending on those kinds of discretionary items is not as viable as it once was,” says Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography and Planning. “At the same time, people are at home more and are staying away from public areas. So it makes sense that people who still have money coming in are upgrading their private spaces.”
Monthly household travel spending was down more than 90 per cent this April, according to the Royal Bank of Canada’s COVID Consumer Spending Tracker. However, discretionary spending ( on everything except apparel, jewelry and gifts) was actually higher through most of the month than it was in April 2019.
As Canadians redirect their spending toward the homefront, condo marketing campaigns are adjusting their messages. “We have certainly seen a surge in the trend for homes with more active areas and green spaces,” says Mimi Ng, senior vice- president of sales and marketing at Menkes Developments.
Noting that this trend began long before the COVID- 19 pandemic, Ng cites the Sugar Wharf development on Toronto’s downtown waterfront as a prime example of a new project with resort- like amenities. These include a landscaped outdoor space, children’s play zone, exercise area, reflection pool, fire pit with a barbecue area, and multiple dining and gathering areas, as well as a new two-acre community park.
“Having had to spend several months staring at the same four walls, people have had a lot of time to think about what they want in a living space,” says Camrost- Felcorp spokesman Christopher Castellano. “It’s become increasingly clear that it’s not enough for us to have a little rooftop dining area with a couple of trees.”
According to Castellano, projects that are still in the preconstruction phase — particularly master-planned developments working with large tracts of land — have the ability to capitalize on the piqued desire for access to the outdoors. He points to Camrost’s three- acre Exchange District near Burnhamthorpe Drive and Hurontario Road in Mississauga, where hundreds of trees will be spread over landscaped grounds surrounding a basketball half- court and an outdoor lounge with barbecues and seating. Indoor amenities, meanwhile, include a rooftop restaurant, gymnasium and running track.
Unlike the nearly completed Exchange District, which is locked into its amenity mix, the design of Camrost’s nascent Upper East Village at Eglinton Avenue West and Brentcliffe Road in Leaside is still being “tweaked” to account for the lifestyle fallout of the pandemic, Castellano says.
“Our future projects are definitely considering factors such as offering roomier outdoor spaces. However, it’s important to note that we’re still only a few months into this so-called new normal, and it’s not clear what the long-term effects will be. It’s very much a moving target at this point.”
Some projects seem especially prescient in their inclusion of staycation-friendly features. Trulife Developments’ 8188 Yonge community in Thornhill is slated to include an outdoor pool ringed with cabanas, a private park and an outdoor yoga space accessed via a 200-foot-long infinity walkway. “Our message is that you don’t have to travel to get that resort feel with 30,000 square feet of outdoor amenity space at your doorstep,” says Freddy Mak, Trulife’s president of sales and marketing.
Unit balconies will be customizable; buyers can choose from three design packages differing in colour, finish and décor elements. “Concrete floors and glass railings just don’t cut it anymore,” Mak says.
When it comes to affecting the feel of a getaway, location counts just as much, if not more, according to Ng, pointing out that Sugar Wharf residents will have easy access to the Toronto waterfront and islands. Menkes’ new Mobilio development in Vaughan, at Jane Street and Highway 7, meanwhile, is establishing a series of promenades and parks that spans over 30 acres as part of the Black Creek renewal project.
Of course, all these special features come at a cost. Monthly maintenance fees at amenity- rich Aqualina, for example, are 15 per cent higher than the GTA average of around $ 0.64 per square foot. “Fees can add up, which is why we work hard to pinpoint the amenities people will use today and in the future,” Castellano says.
But that assessment becomes more challenging for developers during turbulent times, says RE/ MAX Realtron general manager and broker Cameron Forbes. “It takes a while for the environment to make an impact on construction plans, so it’s just a little bit too short-term for developers to respond to the effects of the pandemic at this point.”
That’s not to say real- estate agents and brokers can’t step in. “COVID-19 has really reinforced a live- at- home, work-at-home, play-at-home mentality,” says Forbes. “We are definitely selling more properties that are closer to the water, closer to green spaces, closer to golf courses, and closer to things that people can do with their families in a safe way.”