East end Kitchener showing signs of renewal
Ion stops at Market and Borden make area more attractive
KITCHENER — The east end of downtown Kitchener is seeing the first signs of what could be a renaissance, as developers begin buying up land and applying to develop what has been an underdeveloped area of the city.
While much of the earliest flurry of downtown redevelopment took place in the west end, centred around the Tannery district and Victoria Street, there’s a sense of renewed interest in the stretch of King Street East from Cedar Street to Ottawa, said Hilary Abel, the city’s manager of downtown development.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Abel said. “We are starting to see more (development) in the east end, and in Midtown,” as available land in UpTown Waterloo and downtown Kitchener becomes more scarce. Obviously Ion and the impact of two LRT stops, Market and Borden, make it an attractive place to live in or to work, because you can get there a lot more easily,” she said. “In combination with that, there is available land.”
As well, access to the Conestoga Parkway and the 401 are an easy drive down King Street.
The city and the downtown business association held a workshop earlier this week to hear from residents and businesses about what they would like to see happen in the area as it transforms.
“We had anticipated getting about 50 people out, and we got over 100,” Abel said.
People are pleased that growth could bring new businesses and more customers for existing businesses, Abel said. They also highlighted the area’s assets: its walkability, its access to nearby schools, green space and the Iron Horse Trail, the Kitchener market and its diverse restaurants and businesses.
But the area is also seen as ripe for renewal. Many properties along King Street are vacant or underused, and some businesses, such as used-car lots and auto repair shops, do little to enliven the street and aren’t inviting for pedestrians, according to recent planning studies focused on development near the LRT.
Janine Oosterveld, Kitchener’s manager of site development, said development interest is gradually creeping eastward from downtown, but renewal and intensification along King Street will take years to unfold.
“The projects we’re seeing now are close to the downtown,” she said. “There are definite opportunities along that corridor available. It’s going to take some time.”
A number of projects are in the works in the east end:
• Drewlo Holdings of London, Ont., is planning an $80-million development in the block bounded by King, Charles and Cameron streets and Madison Avenue. The project includes two towers of 19 and 23 storeys, with retail at street level and 488 rental units, including up to 10 affordable housing units.
• A $19-million project at 387 King St. E. would add an eightstorey building with 60 residential units, and a two-storey building with a grocery store at street level and offices above.
• Across the street at 388-400 King St. E., Vive Development has plans to tear down two homes that have been converted to businesses, and build a seven-storey, 72-unit apartment building. In a report to the city’s committee of adjustment, city planners said the proposal “will allow redevelopment of a property that is rundown with new, mixed-use transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly development that will help achieve the city’s objectives for the central transit corridor.”
• Another major project is in the works a bit further down King Street. Vive has been buying up property in the block bounded by King, Ottawa and Charles streets and Borden Avenue, and now owns close to two acres in the block, where it hopes to build 500 or more rental units, Stephen Litt, a principal at Vive said.
The development is in the early stages, but it will likely be built in phases over the next several years, Litt said. It could include a grocery store as well as hundreds of apartments priced in the midrange. He sees the site as having great potential as a gateway to the downtown.
“It’s not very pleasant right now,” he said. “We hope to do something marvellous there.”
Vive sees a big market for midrange rentals aimed at households with incomes of $70,000 or less, Litt said.
“Everything you see going up right now is high-end condos. We see rental as being an absolute critical need,” he said.
Abel agrees residents are keen to see the area remain accessible to people of all incomes: “It’s important to have that mix.
Signs of change are already starting: Drewlo has cleared its site, while the region has torn down several buildings along Ottawa Street, between King and Charles, in anticipation of work to repair and upgrade Ottawa in 2019-2020. The demolitions have left a tattoo parlour in a small island surrounded by vacant lots.
The Exotic Skin Tattoo Shop sits alone in front of an empty lot on King Street at Ottawa Street in east Kitchener, where more development projects are fast approaching, as land elsewhere in the city and Waterloo dwindles.