At the moment, it’s difficult to envision a long-neglected corner of Toronto’s harbour as pedestrian friendly. The dusty 14 acres of formerly industrial land are hemmed in to the north by the elevated Gardiner Expressway and rail lines connecting to Union Station. A four-lane road through the site favours bikes over foot traffic.
But an innovative office and retail building coming soon will set the tone for a master-planned community so walking-friendly it will even feature heated sidewalks. Ultimately, the area is destined to include a dozen buildings totalling 2.5-million square feet of residential, office and retail, as well as space for cultural and entertainment uses.
Getting to the final-approval stage for the site has been a saga spanning more than a decade. The formerly industrial land had been purchased by Home Depot, which hoped to build a store with an ample parking lot on the site. That project ran into public and municipal opposition, and the site was sold 11 years ago to 3C Lakeshore Inc. a consortium that includes Toronto’s Cityzen Development Group, Castlepoint Numa Inc. and Continental Ventures Realty.
A team including KPMB Architects, architectsAlliance, Claude Cormier + Associés and Britain’s Canary Wharf planners, Foster + Partners, developed a master plan for a unique live-work community.
The plan has been refined several times over the past decade by Adamson Associates Architects, which designed a signature mid-rise office building at 300 Queens Quay East. Adamson’s previous work includes Canary Wharf in London, 2 World Trade Center in New York and St. Lawrence Market North in Toronto.
The idea of connecting the city to the water’s edge has always been central to all the thinking, says Bruce Kuwabara, a founding partner of KPMB Architects.
“But a waterfront café isn’t going to work in January, so we said: How do we create an environment that works year-round?”
A plaza in the centre of the site has been designed to be the heart of the district and will feature a public building. The footprints and heights of the 12 proposed buildings have been refined to increase the amount of publicly accessible space in the district, from an original 41 per cent to 65 per cent. The result is a plan with pedestrian streets 10 metres wide, protected from the wind with heated pavers that will remain dry and safe even in the winter, Mr. Kuwabara says.
The walkability goal is being aided by coming expansions of the road system and transit in the district, he adds. Proposed infrastructure changes include an extension of Trinity Street beneath the rail corridor and the Gardiner Expressway that parallels the site. That will connect the area directly to the historic Distillery District to the north of The Bend site. Mr. Kuwabara was also the lead for the Athlete’s Village for the 2015 Pan/Parapan Games in what is known as the Canary District, which adjoins the Distillery District
Other changes under development are a realignment of Cherry Street and a pair of gracefully arched new bridges across the Keating Canal and the proposed extension of an LRT line along Queens Quay. The Martin Goodman Trail, a busy bike route, also runs through the site.
The district plan is unusual in that it’s leading with the office building, rather than residential, says Alfredo Romano, president at Castlepoint Numa and partner at 3C Lakeshore Inc. Its prominent location at the point of a bend in the otherwise straight Queens Quay and its unique design are features intended to attract attention to the location.
“We wanted to anchor the site with an office building that responded to the needs for a flexible office environment and more freedom of movement for employees, which were priorities even before COVID and have become more important today,” Mr. Romano says.
“We started designing this prepandemic with a concept of making the offices seamless when it comes to indoor and outdoor environments,” says Greg Dunn, principal of Adamson Associates Architects, which designed the office building that will rise between the coming Trinity Street and new Cherry Street on the north side of Queens Quay.
“The site has such an interesting angle, we rotated the mass of floors a bit, creating outdoor terraces on seven of the 11 floors. Four of them are connected with exterior stairwells as well,” he notes.
The outdoor spaces are all designed to be useful throughout the year.
“We did microclimate studies and have added trees and terracing, so wind is not an issue,” Mr. Dunn adds.
The building’s floorplates allow for flexibility to expand to smaller or larger spaces. There will also be capability to connect floors with interior staircases, so tenants can reach another floor without having to use an elevator, Mr. Dunn says.
The building is tall enough that it will have a panoramic view of Lake Ontario, as well as the city skyline, from an amenity deck on the green roof. The project is aiming for LEED Gold certification when it is ready for occupancy in 2024.
Tech, finance and creative industries are target markets for space in 300 Queens Quay, says Joe Almeida, managing director of Avison Young, the exclusive office leasing brokerage.
“We’re talking to potential tenants not just in Toronto but nationally and internationally through our network. In all sectors – from finance and insurance to technology and arts – there are companies that have actually been growing in the pandemic and a lot of them are looking at Toronto,” Mr. Almeida says.
The Bend is not the only massive redevelopment in progress along the formerly industrial northeast edge of Toronto’s harbour. The site is just east of another brownfield that Sidewalk Labs, the sister company of Google, had proposed to develop into a wired community, until that plan that fell through in June, 2020.
Waterfront Toronto has recently reopened the planning process to find a new partner to develop that 4.8-hectare site, known as Quayside.
“The gestation period on The Bend has been long and there has been a lot of heavy lifting to get to this point, but it has all been worth it,” Mr. Kuwabara says. “It’s exciting to see this finally moving forward.”