A well-worn but well-used shopping centre in Toronto’s west end is being replaced after nearly 50 years, and this time the plan is to build something that’s more than just a mall.
The Galleria project at Dupont and Dufferin Streets will rise where the Galleria Shopping Centre stood from 1972 on roughly 12 acres. The old building is now partly demolished with a few tenants – a bank, a supermarket and a drugstore – still operating in what remains.
The shopping centre was a nondescript slab of stores and parking lot, but it was also a popular gathering place for residents and a destination for shoppers. Nice looking, it wasn’t – in fact, talks have been under way since the early 2000s to replace the mall, and the first approvals were granted in 2004. But neighbours didn’t like what was approved back then and the site went back to the drawing board until it was sold again in 2015.
What’s going up in its place now is more ambitious and infused with community involvement. The old mall’s 12 acres is only part of a 20-acre site that will include an eight-acre park. There will be seven commercial and residential towers, including a distinctive 31-storey flatiron-shaped building, called Galleria III. The residential portion will be a mixture of condos and affordable housing for about 6,000 people.
There’s also a proposed 95,000-square-foot community centre to replace the Wallace Emerson Community Centre, a new park with skating facilities (expanding and revamping an existing park) and a pedestrian-friendly diagonal boulevard cutting across the entire site, to be lined with small-scale retail such as cafés, boutiques and bike shops.
It sounds nice, but getting it done depends on getting buy-in from the community, say the planners, developers and architects. The aim is to have the entire project complete by the middle of this decade, says Dror Duchovny, vice-president of marketing and asset management at ELAD Canada, the developer of Galleria III.
“We’re looking at the project not only in terms of who will live here, but also how people in the neighbouring community will use it – the retail, park and community centre. We’re trying to apply some vision to the entire project,” Mr. Duchovny says.
The need for community approval is why the developers, architects and planners have already spent several years meeting and consulting local residents and working with the neighbourhood’s city councillor, says Melanie Hare, partner with Urban Strategies, a consultant on the project.
“The neighbourhood was traditionally working class, and it now has a strong arts community, too,” she says. The area’s roots are industrial – in 1916, Canadian Aeroplanes Ltd. opened the largest aircraft factory in what was still the British Empire, and houses for workers went up nearby. Gramophones, radiators and car parts were also made there before the mall was built.
The new development, particularly Galleria III, will nod to the past with some of its building materials, and a street frontage that hugs the curve along Dupont Street, respecting a quirky street configuration in normally grid-patterned Toronto. It’s also designed to stand out as one of the few flatiron-shaped buildings in the city.
Most importantly, the developers and the city have tried to listen to what the neighbours think, Ms. Hare says.
“We learned a lot about what’s important to the neighbourhood now. For example, they want the [diagonal] street to be a slow-moving one that can be shared by pedestrians and smaller commercial retail units – local shopping. People said that’s really important; they don’t want people driving through like bats out of hell,” she says.
The new Wallace Emerson Community Centre will also be more elaborate than before, with daycare facilities and space for a community food market, for example.
“This will be the most significant scaling up of any community centre in Toronto,” Ms. Hare says.
The new project is being built in phases. It’s a bit confusing, as the actual flatiron-shaped Galleria III is part of Phase 2. This architecturally ambitious building is intended to be a landmark for the site – with two floors of retail on the bottom making up about a fifth of the building’s floor area and condos on the 29 stories above.
The developer, ELAD Canada, and the designers at Hariri Pontarini Architects, want the tower to help people reimagine the site as soon as they approach, perhaps forgetting the flat slab of stores and parking spaces that was there before.
“It’s kind of what you’d consider European scale at street level, with a tower [Galleria III],” says Michael Conway, architect and associate partner at Hariri Pontarini Architects.
“We want people who walk through the neighbourhood to get the kind of feeling you get when you’re in the Distillery District,” he says.
“We’re trying to build something where you can see that there was care and design and thought put into the area.”