In a year when hotels across Canada are facing unprecedented challenges, a company breaking ground for a new hotel and office complex in Toronto believes it’s also a strategic opportunity to think ahead.
“It may not be the best time now, but we are optimistic about the future. We estimate that when this project opens in March, 2023, COVID will be a distant memory and we will be back to normal,” predicts Ali Akman, president of SAMM Developments, developer and builder of the project called Regal Plaza Corporate Centre.
After an almost-six-month delay caused by the COVID-19 disruption, the company broke ground on Sept. 22 for what will be a $104-million mixed-use development east of Toronto’s Pearson Airport. The project will include an 11-storey, 204-unit Staybridge Suites hotel, retail and 150 office condo units. The complex at Dixon Road and Martin Grove Road, near the on-ramp to Highway 401, will be linked to the existing Holiday Inn Toronto Airport East and built on a former parking lot.
It’s part of a revitalization of the zone east of the airport, that is moving ahead despite the current COVID-19 slowdown, says Michael Ford, city councillor for Ward 1, Etobicoke North.
Dixon Road has an important role in the revitalizations that are taking place in north Etobicoke, which includes the Toronto Congress Centre and the nearby Woodbine Entertainment Complex, he says. “Conversations are currently under way for the creation of a Business Improvement Area as part of a vision that includes an expanded public realm, increased access and connectivity for pedestrians and a beautified streetscape.
“The goal is to make it an inviting destination for those within and outside of our city, as well as an attractive place to do business. The redevelopment of 600 Dixon Rd. is an exciting addition to the work that is already under way. It will bring many more jobs and economic growth to the area, which is key as our city continues to travel through COVID-19,” Mr. Ford predicts.
It’s also part of forward planning that is seeing continued hotel construction across Canada despite the current COVID-19 contraction, says Jonathan Lund, vice-president of hotel operations for Canada of Intercontinental Hotels Group, which includes the Staybridge Suites and Holiday Inn brands. “Hoteliers have a long-term view on development, and we broke ground on a Holiday Inn Express project in Canada in the summer and will be starting another in October. There is an enduring confidence in the Staybridge brand and the Canadian market and by the time this development is complete, let’s hope we’re past this COVID situation and return to travel.
“We have actually been using the downtime from COVID to accelerate renovations of hotels so when guests come back, we have the work done,” Mr. Lund adds. “Over all, we are continuing to put money into properties because we not only see a recovery coming, but all brands need to stay relevant to customer needs.”
As part of the upgrading, the Holiday Inn Airport East underwent an $8-million renovation of all its guest rooms. The Staybridge Suites project had been planned by Mr. Akman before his company sold the hotel, along with three others in Toronto, in 2018. SAMM Developments retained the right to do the development. It will be owned by the current owner of the Holiday Inn, Sajed Rahaman, whose company is Regal Hotel Group Ltd. His holdings have expanded from a company that started in the 1990s as an operator of gas stations.
Designed by Toronto-based architecture and engineering firm IBI Group, the Staybridge Suites building will step back starting at the eighth-storey level on both the eastern and western sides, creating a pyramid-shaped roof line. A glass and spandrel window-wall façade will be broken up by a zig-zagging grid of protruding white precast panels. A glass atrium connects the new building with the existing five-storey hotel and will act as a lobby for both the offices and hotel. Two levels of underground parking with 292 spaces will provide more parking than the spaces lost to the new building.
Levels 2, 3 and 4 will include a series of 750-square-foot commercial office condos that can be combined to create larger spaces. Regal Plaza will also feature leased commercial space on its ground floor, which will include a restaurant, drugstore, hair salon and several other shops to service both hotel guests and office users, says Mark Robertson, program manager for the 600 Dixon project. “On the penthouse floor we will have a banquet hall and meeting space with a wrap-around view at the very top of the building,” he adds.
Mr. Roberson says he expects the complex will attract a mix of tenants, including companies based in other cities that do business in Toronto, as well as some Toronto firms that want satellite offices near the airport, which will be served by a frequent hotel shuttle. Business clients and conference attendees at the Congress Centre, which is within walking distance, can conduct meetings or set up displays in the complex.
SAMM Developments is a division of Ankara-based Akram Holding, which has developed office, hotel and shopping complexes in Turkey, China and Argentina. The company currently owns hotels in Waterloo and Thunder Bay in Ontario; Moncton and Bathurst in New Brunswick; and Halifax.
In addition to architects IBI Group, the Regal Plaza project team includes: Cole Engineering Group Ltd., LEA Consulting Ltd., Sigmund Soudack & Associates Inc., United Engineering; construction manager Gillam Group Inc., interior designer Chase Architecture and landscape architect Ferris & Associates.
Mr. Akman says he’s contemplating a couple of other similar hotel projects. “I see great potential for Canada and Toronto in particular. There are more construction cranes in Toronto at the moment than any city in the world.”
By the numbers: 600 Dixon Road Regal Plaza
Site size: 33,5650 square feet
Hotel area: 136,454 square feet
Number of suites: 193
New offices: 64,820 square feet
New retail: 9,200 square feet
Building height: 11 storeys and 2 underground parking levels