Toronto Life

High Roller

Condo king Peter Freed just announced an $800-million luxury tower downtown. He’s either brave or bonkers

- By courtney shea

You’re building a 63-storey, five-star hotel and condo during a time of high interest rates, in a downtown still recovering from the pandemic. Are you clairvoyan­t or crazy?

We’re just going right into the economy question? Look, this location, Adelaide and Duncan, is the best I’ve ever had. Walk east and you’re in the Financial District; walk west and you’re in the Entertainm­ent District. Right now, Toronto is facing a housing shortage. Ottawa has reined in inflation, and it looks like the banks will lower interest rates soon. Usually, when the economy is strong, I think, This is too good to be true. But emerging from an 18-month adjustment period may actually be advantageo­us.

Are you saying your luxury skyscraper addresses the housing shortage?

The city needs more affordable housing but also more housing in general. We’ve worked on projects with affordable components, such as our redevelopm­ent of the Galleria mall. We’ve never done purpose-built rentals, but we may soon. This new tower happens to be a luxury product because there’s demand for it.

I watched a promo clip featuring a model of the building. It felt a bit like a Drake video.

One could say that. We’ll have art by Takashi Murakami. And we’ll have a Katsuya restaurant, a pool, a spa and, in the tower’s crown, a resto-club with 70-foot ceilings. Residents will be living the hotel lifestyle.

Is that your lifestyle?

I live in midtown with my wife and two sons, so most of my free time is spent at hockey rinks. I still love to stay in hotels, and if I were to live in a condo, this would be it. Maybe in 10 years.

Your tower has several three- and fourbedroo­m units, which is rare for Toronto. Why do we see larger condos in other big cities?

In Canada, you must presell 70 per cent of your units to get financed. So developers favour smaller units, which typically get bought up by investors, in order to reach their pre-sell target.

What percentage of, say, a New York building must be sold to get shovels in the ground?

Often, zero! The States are the risky extreme on the opposite end of the spectrum. Still, there needs to be a balance. Imagine if we could pre-sell maybe a third of all units. But that’s a different conversati­on.

You made your name as the King West condo guy, but around this time last year, you planted flags in cottage country, buying three resorts for $330 million. Why the shift?

Buying Deerhurst, Horseshoe Valley and most of the remaining land in

Blue Mountain Village was a strategic move, based on how much Covid drove up local tourism. Our recreation and hospitalit­y amenities—rooftop pools, ski hills, golf courses— are what differenti­ate us from our competitio­n.

Most developers don’t want to own a restaurant, but it’s part of our sales pitch. You could buy a house that comes with a playground at the end of the street, but we’re offering acres of green space, dining and leisure.

Isn’t rural life a bit off-brand for an avowed urbanite like you?

I’ve always loved Muskoka, but I never had the chance to plunk myself down there. When the pandemic hit, I spent four months in the country with my family, and I was the happiest I’d ever been. Everything slowed to a more manageable pace, and it made me realize that simple things are the best things. Toronto is such a rush, and I love it, but to breathe different air is special. My stay validated the strategy to invest more outside the city.

And yet here you are, back on home turf.

Toronto’s the best city in the world. I have a collection of more than 2,000 books on it. The perfect balance is to be able to live in Toronto and then drive for about 90 minutes and be in a whole other realm.

So downtown isn’t dying?

Not at all. We’re very different from so many American cities, where downtown becomes a ghost town after 5 p.m.

Your buildings in King West made it party central. When’s the last time you were out for last call?

Not since well before the pandemic. Going out for dinner with friends and family is my favourite thing to do these days. My clubbing days are behind me.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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