Home is where the mall was

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While there was never anything particularly innovative about South Etobicoke’s Stonegate Plaza, the demolition of the 1950s strip mall was ahead of its time.

Home is where the mall was
© Provided by National Post The 32-acre Cloverdale site will include 4,050 residential units across 10 towers and 280,000 square feet of retail, roughly half what the mall currently contains.

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After the wrecking ball moved out in 2014, the Vandyk Group of Companies moved in to replace the plaza’s sprawling parking lot and L-shaped retail border with its four-phase Backyard Neighbourhood Condos development. First came the Shoppes at Stonegate, a 32,000-square-foot retail and service hub anchored by a community health centre. Then came the Humberside, the first of three mid-rise condo buildings to open on the 5.5-acre site at Berry Road and Stephen Drive.

By the time the project’s sold-out Queensview and King’s Mill phases are both occupied in 2023, an unprecedented number of Torontonians will be preparing to move into condo communities built where shopping centres of all shapes and sizes once stood.

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While the multibillion-dollar redevelopment plans for the GTA’s largest malls, such as Yorkdale, Square One and the Scarborough Town Centre, tend to involve building condo towers on sprawling parking lots, many of the region’s smaller retail hubs — Toronto’s Galleria Shopping Centre, Scarborough’s Agincourt Mall and Golden Mile Shopping Centre, North York’s Centerpoint Mall and Newtonbrook Plaza, Etobicoke’s Cloverdale Mall, Shoppers World Brampton and the list goes on — are being demolished and replaced on a scale that makes the Stonegate Plaza project shrink in comparison.

The redevelopment of the 32-acre Cloverdale site, for instance, is slated to include 4,050 residential units across 10 towers, approximately 8 acres of public and private green space, a new community centre and 280,000 square feet of retail, or a little more than half of what the mall currently contains.

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Cloverdale’s reduced retail footprint reflects changing shopper preferences that have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, says Ben Gilbank, director of development at the QuadReal Property Group. Data from the NPD Group’s 2021 e-commerce Channel Report backs him up, indicating that the number of online retail purchases by Canadians grew by 25 per cent over the first half of 2021.

Home is where the mall was
© PHOTO COURTESY OF ELAD CANADA Plans for Galleria on the Park include 300,000 square feet of retail space, more than the original mall contained, along with 3,000 residential units in eight high-rise towers.

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In-person shopping will still be part of the Cloverdale redevelopment, Gilbank says, adding that QuadReal intends to own and manage the property’s retail space “for 100 years into the future. We’re still very optimistic about the performance of retail in the long term, so we have to take the time to get it right up front, and be very cognizant of its importance to the surrounding community.”

In order to solicit feedback from local residents, QuadReal set up something called the Cloverdale Common, a 4,000-square-foot space in the mall that was also meant to showcase what Gilbank calls “net positives” of the project’s residential towers: a retail-lined road meandering through the property and leading to Cloverdale Square, both of which would evoke the mall’s original open-air layout; a market building ringed with outdoor patios and terraces; and a multi-purpose arts and culture hub.

The same kind of messaging is coming from ELAD Canada, the developer behind the eight-tower Galleria on the Park mixed-use community rising over the partially demolished site of the Galleria Shopping Centre, which opened at Dupont and Dufferin in 1972. Although the 20-acre plot had already been rezoned for residential construction when ELAD acquired it in 2015, the decision was made to maintain about the same amount of retail space as the mall had offered, says ELAD Canada CEO Rafi Lazer. “We could have just hit our residential density targets and moved on, but instead we took a full year to field feedback from the community.”

Home is where the mall was
© PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DANIELS CORPORATION Eleven new buildings will transform the 67-year-old Golden Mile shopping centre into a mixed-use community at Victoria Park and Eglinton, opposite an LRT stop.

To that end, the project will include approximately 300,000 square feet of retail space — more than the original mall contained — 20,000 square feet of office space and around 3,000 residential units spread across eight high-rise towers lining an eight-acre park.

“The most serious issue in Toronto and in Canada as a whole is the affordability of homes,” Lazer says. “You can blame whoever you want for this, but at the end of the day there’s simply not enough inventory.” Five percent of suites at Galleria on the Park, a total of 150 units, will qualify as affordable housing.

The mixed-use model inspired another large-scale redevelopment project, Scarborough’s Golden Mile Shopping Centre on Eglinton Avenue East. “The retail that’s needed in the community can remain in place, and then services and amenities can be added and upgraded based on the wants and needs of new arrivals and long-time residents,” says Remo Agostino, vice-president of development at The Daniels Corporation, which has partnered with Choice Properties REIT on the 19-acre project. The build was motivated in part by the emergence of the Crosstown LRT, which is set to begin operating in 2022. “When you have significant investments from all levels of government happening along a particular corridor, you have a great opportunity for mixed-use development.”

The plans call for 11 new buildings to gradually transform the 67-year-old shopping centre into a mixed-use community master-planned by Giannone Petricone Associates. The first phase includes a pair of 38- and 48-storey condominium towers, as well as a rental building and an innovation hub on the northeast corner of Victoria Park and Eglinton, opposite an LRT stop.

Designing the new Golden Mile “is very much an incremental process,” Agostino says. “We have an overall vision, but we also have to be able to respond to circumstances as they change.”

According to a recent report from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada, “rather than having just retail uses at the bottom of condos, developers are diversifying them to include facilities like elevated parks, community centres and day cares.”

But mall-style food courts and parking lots as far as the eye can see? Not so much.

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