Gleaner

Serving Toronto's most liveable communities with the Annex Gleaner and Liberty Gleaner

Westbank solicits ideas for Ed’s site

May 27th, 2014 · No Comments

Mirvish Villagers stress link between affordability and character
By Annemarie Brissenden
Mirvish Villagers accustomed to battling real estate developers greeted an unexpected overture from Westbank Projects Corp. on April 30 at the Randolph Academy with polite skepticism. It was one of a series of introductory meetings hosted by the company, which last fall purchased a 3.47-acre site that includes Honest Ed’s and Mirvish Village.
“We do things differently,” said Ian Duke of Westbank to the approximately 60 people in attendance. “We don’t see ourselves as a developer, we see ourselves as city builders.”
Duke explained that Westbank currently doesn’t have a plan for the site, and hasn’t even hired an architecture firm. The sole dictate at this point is that the future site will be a mixed-use development of some sort, and it is unlikely that it would be a hotel.
Westbank’s goal for the meeting, then, was to introduce its representatives to the community and gain an understanding of what makes Mirvish Village special to those who live and work in the area.
Duke opened the discussion by presenting Westbank’s guiding ideas for creating what it terms a “community vision” for the site. The nine points included mixed use, sharing economy (for example, co-op daycare, car share, farmers’ market), heritage, community space, and urban mobility.
In response, those attending the meeting asked practical questions, suggested some guiding principles of their own, and shared their misgivings about developers in general.
On the practical side, business owners wanted to know when work would begin on the project (not until 2017 at the earliest) and how long it would take to complete (as long as two to three years).
With regard to suggested guiding principles, chief among them was affordability.
One speaker said “low rents provide an opportunity for certain kinds of businesses and artists [to] exist here.”
Another speaker related that Mirvish Village was thought to be the legacy of Ed Mirvish’s wife, Anne Mirvish, who had wanted to create a space for artists.
“Rent control is a boon to us. Moving 100 metres—rent would be four times what we pay,” added a third.
Duke admitted that affordability is “going to be one of our biggest challenges. We’ll obviously need to apply a lot of creativity to that.”
The participants kept returning to affordability, arguing that it is inextricably linked to something else they hold dear: Mirvish Village’s heritage and character.
“People come here because it’s not the same, because it’s different,” said one business owner.
“That will be a yardstick we apply to the final project,” answered Duke.
While the participants were cautiously optimistic about Westbank’s approach, they did express some cynicism about developers in general.
As one speaker commented, “It may not be like this in Vancouver, but in Toronto, developers don’t have a good reputation,” adding, “To what degree are you going to deliver on this excellent list?”
“We want to find out what things really hit the mark with people. What are must-haves, what resonates, what doesn’t,” said Duke. “One hundred people will have 100 different ideas. We want to distill a hierarchy of what’s important to get out of the process.”
“Just know that a lot of people will be watching that list,” responded a participant.
In addition to the Randolph Academy meeting, Westbank’s representatives met with four business improvement associations (BIAs) and four residents’ associations. The groups they spoke to included the Bloor-Annex BIA, the Harbord Street BIA, and the Palmerston Area and Seaton Village residents’ associations. It also held a similar introductory session with 45 members of the Centre for Social Innovation Annex on Bathurst Street, and is exploring how best to communicate with local residents and business owners, be it through a project website, twitter, or even a community kiosk.
Duke said Westbank anticipates presenting the results of these meetings at an open house in June, when there will be another opportunity to discuss the guiding ideas and get input from the community. He expects the company to hire an architectural firm in late summer or early fall and to present the first iteration of the plan for the area in December or January.
But he stresses that the timeline is a preliminary one, and Westbank could easily fall behind.
“We would rather do things right than quickly,” Duke said.

Tags: Annex · News · General