By now, everyone is probably well aware that Toronto Union Station is going through a huge transformation and restoration. It is exciting to see this historic building that has functioned purely as a conduit for commuters become a space for people to congregate. Toronto Dominion Bank is the lead sponsor of this project and is working on creative ways to engage people within Union Station as well as to the extensive restaurant and retail options. Union Speaks was created to engage people in a healthy conversation about issues facing our city and beyond. Each Union Speaks event will have a different theme and will take place every few months in the west wing of Union Station. The next event will be held in the spring.
For anyone in real estate or with a general interest in development within our city, this latest Union Speaks was very informative, with insights from Toronto Union, TD Bank,The Design Exchange, and First Gulf. The host of the evening was Salima Rawji, VP Development at the City of Toronto’s Toronto Realty Agency.
The Toronto Union redevelopment is extremely respectful that the station is a world heritage site with history dating back to First Nations, so the evening began with an Indigenous song by a First Nations woman who spoke of the Objibwa, Iroquois and Wyandot people’s history on the Toronto Union site. She mentioned the many downtown street names such as Spadina that have Indigenous roots.
The first speaker was Vanessa McDonald, VP of Brand Strategy and Partnerships for Toronto Union . Vanessa gave some clarity on the transformation of Union Station from an near obsolete space into a dynamic environment for people to congregate, dine, shop and just meet up with friends. Union has evolved beyond a mere conduit for commuters and many interesting shops and restaurants have already opened. Union Chicken and Amano Pasta are both sit-down restaurants with the option for take-out. They both will offer brunch and breakfast in addition to their extensive lunch and dinner choices. The Peace Collective, The Naked Beauty Bar, Chocolate X chocolatier are just a few of the premier retail offerings opening at Union. As you exit the Go train there is a world of options to enjoy at Union prior to entering The Path. Condo dwellers can also enjoy all these new amenities within Union Station.
In addition to Union Speaks, they also host Union Draws where you can come to the station to learn to draw and sketch. There is no better place to start learning about perspective than than in this stunning historic space. Union Draws takes place on the last Sunday of every month and this past Sunday the session was lead by Alexander Josephson of Partisans Architecture, the firm that has had their hand in the renovations of the retail spaces. In the summer months, once the construction is done, Union Summer market will return to Front Street offering food, music and events to make lunch hour a little more interesting. Both of these events are sponsored by Toronto Dominion Bank.
The Design Exchange
The second speaker was Shauna Levy of the Design Exchange. A 2014 exhibit at the Design Exchange, This is Not a Toy, was guest curated by Pharrell Williams. When Pharrell was asked why he would volunteer his time on this endeavour, his answer was that he wants contemporary art to be accessible to everyone and this has become Shauna’s mission. Shauna shared with us the story of Edit, the exhibit that was created in an abandoned soap factory in the Lower East Don Lands last year and was tremendously successful in exposing the general public to art and design. Shauna is always thinking of what she can do engage Toronto and Toronto Union is a the perfect venue to showcase both art and design to the population. She is a strong supporter of the restoration and transformation of Union as she believes in re-purposing old buildings rather than demolishing them. Her love of Heatherwick has her dreaming of transforming the old flour silos on the lake into an incredible building as it has been done by Heatherwick in Capetown. She mentioned Bruce Mau, the well-known Canadian designer, and his involvement in Edit as well as Partisans, an up-and-coming architecture firm involved in Toronto Union’s transformation. I must say Toronto is well looked after with Shauna relentlessly striving to make art and design a part of everyone’s life here.
East Habour development
The next speaker was Derek Goring, the VP Development of East Harbour with First Gulf. It was exciting to hear about the work that First Gulf has done collaborating with the City of Toronto while working on their plan of slowly and organically re-developing the Lower East Don Lands into an entire new community that will become quite self sufficient. The key to this development is transportation. First Gulf has worked with the city to devise a plan to change the path of the Don Valley as it connects to the Gardiner expressway and taking down the long ramp that leads you to the neighbourhoods of Leslieville and The Beach from the Gardiner. This will open up land for development and make the neighbourhood more welcoming and attractive. They have also worked with the city to extend the subway and TTC to this area that historically has been very removed from any form of public transport. Derek did reference the Canary Wharf project in London as a parallel, however he qualified that this development is set up for success!
Further East Harbour Details:
- 60 Acres, Canada’s largest planned commercial development
- 11 million square feet of office and institutional space
- 2 million square feet of retail, food, entertainment and cultural space
- More than 70,000 jobs
- A new multi-modal transit hub
- Adaptable and innovative building systems
- Extensive parks, public squares and green spaces
- Designed to respond to contemporary trends
- Ever-changing environment using temporary exhibits, pop-up shops and events
- Open and walkable retail streets
- A community within the city that is active 24/7
- Mix of indoor, weather-protected and street-oriented retail that will create an all- season environment
- East Harbour is currently the “best located, worst connected” site in the city
- In order to unlock the site for the development, East Harbour relies on significant enabling infrastructure referred to as 3 Rs: Road, Rail and River
- From 2014-2017, First Gulf worked with all three levels of government and all interested stakeholders to achieve approval and funding for these projects and that has been achieved
- Reconfiguring the Gardiner Expressway to accommodate a new intersection at the Don Roadway
- Provide direct access to and from East Harbour from the DVP
- Removal of all Lakeshore Boulevard ramps allowing for the extension of Broadview Avenue through East Harbour into the Port Lands
- A multi-modal transit hub
- Highest level of public transit service
- 2 commuter lines (GO/Regional express rail/SmartTrack) with subway-type frequency
- 1 subway relief line
- 2 LRTs (Broadview and Queen’s Quay)
- Multiple bus lines
- Shuttle service to Union Station in less than 5 minutes
- The Don Mouth naturalization project
- East Harbour is currently located in a floodplain, which restricts East Harbour from being developed
- The naturalization project will provide permanent flood protection, removing East Harbour from the flood plain and allowing for development
- It also protects approximately 700 acres in the port lands
- All three levels of government have committed to fund this $1.3 billion project
- 2013/2014 Development
- 2015/2016 Infrastructure
- 2016/2017 Approvals
- 2019 Construction begins
- 2021 Initial occupancy
TD Bank sponsorship
The last speaker was Tyrrell Schmitt, VP Global Brand and Customer Experience, TD Bank. It was great to see how engaged Toronto Dominion Bank is in terms of community events and engagement within Toronto Union, through initiatives such as sponsoring cell phone charging stations, the Union Speaks series, gift-wrapping at Christmas and greeters to ensure people can navigate through the construction. Their enthusiasm to transform Union and create a community was wonderful to hear.
I suggest you start watching for upcoming events at Union Station and enjoy watching as this transformation unfolds!
Shauna Levy referenced two great Jane Jacobs quotes:
“New ideas use old buildings”
“Designing a dream city is easy; rebuilding a living one takes imagination”
Collectively Torontonians are carrying on Jane Jacobs’ work using their imaginations to grow this city into a vibrant place to live that celebrates both multi-culturalism and diversity. I am very excited to see the East Harbour development unfold to finish the re-gentrification of what had been derelict waterfront. I am also looking forward to more Design Exchange events and all the upcoming events at Toronto Union Station!
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