For Danielle Lenarcic Biss, who grew up near Cloverdale Mall in Etobicoke, the enclosed maze of shops surrounded by acres of asphalt was a great place to stop for brief errands, but it wasn’t a destination – a place to spend time.
However, Ms. Biss, who is a master of planning candidate at Ryerson University, is learning that long-time residents of the area remember Cloverdale quite differently.
As the lead engagement ambassador for Vancouver-based QuadReal Property Group, she works directly with community members, gathering input to help the developer decide how best to recreate the space as a place for people to live, as well as to shop and visit for fun.
In 1956, when Cloverdale opened near the intersection of the Queen Elizabeth Way and the newly built Highway 427, suburbia was transforming the face of retail. Nearby residents were given a reason not to drive downtown as the mall’s growing collection of food, fashion and service outlets were conveniently accessible and also visually appealing, designed to resemble an old-fashioned, open-air town square.
Every mall had its anchor store, and for Cloverdale, this honour went to a branch of Montreal-based department store Morgan’s, which eventually became part of Hudson’s Bay Co. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, ever-larger crowds flocked to witness staged fashion shows and festivals presented by the retailers. Once the seventies rolled around, all that faded into memory, as Cloverdale became an “indoor” mall enclosed by walls and ceilings. The anchor store eventually became Zellers, then a short-lived Target store. However, for the past few years, the space that once held an anchor tenant has been nothing more than a vast vacant box, ripe for redevelopment.
Time for change
As retail trends change and land values rise, the future of aging malls across Canada rests on a greater mix of uses, Andrew Petrozzi, principal and practice leader of research for B.C. for Avison Young (Canada) Inc., explains in his new study, Future Forward: the Rise of Urban Enclaves in Metro Vancouver.
According to his research, there are at least 10 such retail-only malls from the 1950s and 60s scattered throughout the Vancouver region, including Burnaby, Richmond and Surrey, for which residential components are being planned. In addition to soaring land values around Vancouver, a regional growth strategy designed to encourage mixed-use development along transit corridors is seen as driving the impetus for change.
Vancouver’s Oakridge Centre, built in 1959 and occupying 29 acres of land (the majority of which consists of parking lots), is a prime example of this shift. In addition to one million square feet of retail, QuadReal’s redevelopment plan for the mall includes 400,000 square feet of office space and 5,300 residential units, plus a nine-acre park and a civic centre.
While the Avison Young study concentrated on Vancouver, Mr. Petrozzi says that suburban malls, along with their acres of asphalt, are being similarly reimagined in a number of other Canadian cities, particularly in the fast-growing Toronto region, as well as in the United States.
At Toronto’s Bayview Village Shopping Centre, for instance, planning is under way for two new residential towers. Similarly, redevelopment plans for Dufferin Mall on Toronto’s west side and Agincourt Mall in Scarborough also call for condo towers.
“The mall in its existing form just doesn’t lend itself to retail trends for the future,” says Ben Gilbank, director of development for QuadReal, the firm that purchased Cloverdale in 2004. In order for stores to remain open during the transition, the 33-acre site will be completely rebuilt in stages over a period of several years.
“The area is ripe for change; in a way, we are trying to bring downtown to the inner suburbs. People want to live in downtown Toronto for its arts and culture and restaurants, but it’s become so expensive and traffic is daunting. We see a lot of opportunity to create those urban amenities in a suburban development,” Mr. Gilbank says.
Many of the changes being contemplated for Cloverdale are similar to what QuadReal is already doing at Oakridge in Vancouver. “Both involve creating more sustainable retail offerings, while enhancing the sites to include residential uses and vibrant, public spaces and community amenities,” he says.
Community feedback is integral
The redevelopment plan for Cloverdale will not be finalized until consultations with the community are complete and an open house is held Nov. 23. An empty retail space has become Cloverdale Common, which displays possible redevelopment scenarios, stages art shows and hosts the community for discussions.
“We are getting community feedback for what they will want to see. That’s the inverse of what usually happens: developing a plan and then asking for comment,” Mr. Gilbank says. QuadReal plans to submit a zoning application to the City of Toronto in March, 2020.
Retail will still be the backbone of the project, says Ralph Giannone, principal with Toronto’s Giannone Petricone Associates Architects Inc., which is tasked with developing Cloverdale’s master plan for redevelopment. The idea is to make Cloverdale a fully integrated part of the community. The working vision, he says, is a village on a park along with mid- and high-rise residential buildings – a dynamic hybrid of suburb and downtown where people can live and work.
Underground parking will be paramount in order to free up as much surface space as possible for squares and parks and trails, entertainment and recreation venues. The residential component will increase demand for more restaurants and stores that appeal to multiple generations.
“There was a wonderful optimism as the suburbs developed quickly, but these sites were single-use and now the stars have realigned and big fields of asphalt and cars parked 100 metres away from the store is not the most sustainable for the future,” Mr. Giannone says.
“There’s always nervousness about change and we have to respect that,” he continues, “but there is a great opportunity in rethinking aging retailing. Listening to the neighbours about their expectations is important for long-term success.”
The concerns of the community are both short term and long term, he says. “They want to know what it’s going to mean to them as well as their grandkids. A lot of questions about how retail will change and whether it will still be affordable. They want parkland and a lot of people want to get on wait lists for the housing and seniors’ community so they can stay in the area as they age.”
Mid-sized malls offer new obstacles
While large regional malls will remain essential to the needs of suburbia, the future of mid-sized community shopping centres that have fallen behind the times is less clear.
An example is Stonegate Plaza, an L-shaped strip mall a few kilometres east of Cloverdale Mall that was recently demolished in order to recreate the 5.5-acre site with a focus on mid-rise residential.
According to Andrew Muffitt – a partner at Kohn Partnership Architects Inc., the firm tasked with designing the Stonegate plan in collaboration with the Vandyk Group of Companies – community involvement was also key to this redevelopment. The developers participated in a number of stakeholder meetings and discussions with the city over a period of several years in coming up with the plan. “With a project like this, we can’t just turn the tap on and get it right.”
The consensus of the consultations was that the 55-year-old plaza, situated just north of a newer retail complex surrounding the Ontario Food Terminal, had become redundant. In spite of manageable rents, a third of the stores were vacant, many of them family-owned businesses that the next generation was just not interested in taking on.
Situated along transit lines within an enclave of mid-rise residential apartments near the Humber River, the land was deemed too valuable for single-storey development, particularly with Toronto’s high-rise density pushing farther and farther west. The natural move, Mr. Muffitt says, was to redevelop with a more sensible density and provide more housing for the city. As a result, Phase 1 includes a new health centre, complete with first-floor pharmacy, as well as a new residential tower with 130 units. The second phase will see the addition of several more 10- to 12-storey residences. Known as the Backyard Neighbourhood Condos, the first phase is scheduled for completion this year and shows that, with a vision and community collaboration, any site is prime for redevelopment.