Steps from her office in Vaughan, Ont., just north of Toronto, Manisha Chen can travel any-where she needs to go, and by just about any mode of transit. With three public transit stations accessible through an underground passage, she could hop on the TTC subway to visit clients in downtown Toronto, catch the City of Vaughan’s VivaNext rapid way transit line or grab a York Regional Transit bus to visit clients further north.
A half-hour’s drive west will take her to the Toronto Pearson International Airport.
Ease of transportation is only one of the many reasons Mrs. Chen was keen to move into PricewaterhouseCooper’s new nine-storey office tower in the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre (VMC) in November.
The VMC is the hub around which Canada’s largest mixed-use development is set to unfold across 400 acres of land over the next several years, based on the VMC Secondary Plan to become “a city within a city.”
“I’m really excited about being able to work in such a vibrant and growing new part of Vaughan,” says Mrs. Chen, a director of assurance at PwC, who appreciates the bounty of natural light, open-concept collaboration hubs and direct access to an out-door 4th-floor terrace. “There’s been a lot of buzz about it.”
The wisdom of locating PwC’s new Vaughan office, which is Class-A LEED Gold-certified and will soon include its cybersecurity practice, at the epicentre of Vaughan’s intermodal transportation infrastructure, is confirmed by the consulting firm’s own Emerging Trends in Real Estate report.
“When transit goes to a spot, it creates a place where people can work, live and play in that area,” says PwC managing partner Frank Magliocco. “We knew if transit went there, it would attract good amenities for people to live, work and play. It all made sense to us.”
In many respects, the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre is poised to become the poster child for the development trend toward creating integrated community hubs, which resist the urban sprawl created through more isolated and separated commercial and residential developments that are easily accessed only by car.
The vision revealed in the site’s Master Plan, undertaken in 2011 by developers SmartCentres REIT in collaboration with Diamond Schmitt Architects, will eventually encompass 16 million square feet of office buildings, five 55-storey condominium towers, including rental units, as well as public open spaces, schools and retail, all to be developed over a 15-year period.
The VMC will also include a glass-walled pedestrian corridor with a terraced courtyard, the Vaughan Public Library, a dance studio and upscale retail tenants.
“This is going to be all of the things we love about European urban life with a European sensibility where outdoor spaces are valued,” says Mitch Goldhar, executive chairman of the board of SmartCentres REIT., who amassed the land to make it all possible in the mid-1990s. “It’s really going to be a city within a city.”
The jewel in the crown is the spacious YMCA, resplendent in wood-clad ceilings and glass walls with anodized gold fins, a design compatible with the elliptically shaped transit stations.
Set to open in 2020, it will offer a full-size gymnasium, a multipurpose fitness studio, conditioning and weight rooms with recreational sports and group fitness programs, two swimming pools, a whirlpool and saunas, as well as a non-profit licensed child-care centre.
In exchange for naming rights, SmartCentres paid the $1.5-million cost of an underground passage to the subway, the City of Vaughan’s required condition to locate its new bus terminal there.
“The Vaughan Metropolitan Centre is really an outstanding example of what happens when all levels of government significantly invest in transit infrastructure and the appropriate planning policies are in place,” says Sandra Kaiser, vice-president of corporate affairs for SmartCentres REIT.
Yet, the gold standard of mixed-use urban development has been achieved through luck, as well as good planning, says Mr. Goldhar, adding that he could never have foreseen that $8- to $10-billion would be invested in transportation infrastructure in the area over the 15 years of the project.
If any of several of his past development plans, some of which he now calls “laughable,” had proceeded, the better-use opportunity presented by the 2017 positioning of the subway line and the more recent YRT bus terminal might never have been possible.
It’s really going to be a city within a city.— MITCH GOLDHAR, EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD SMARTCENTRES REIT
“We were able to wait until the best possible use came along,” says Mr. Goldhar. “This could well be the most singularly important property I’ve developed. It certainly is the jewel in the crown for the [SmartCentres] company and, personally, it is probably the most satisfying project I’ve ever worked on.”
As for Mrs. Chen, she has her own self-development project to consider: whether to join the YMCA, just steps away from her 6th-floor office, or simply wait until the nine-acre central park planned just outside is finished. Or both.
“I will look into it. I haven’t decided yet,” she says. “In the spring, it will be nice to walk outside and see all the greenery.”
The VMC At a glance
- Located at Highway 7, near Highways 400 and 407
- One of Canada’s largest Master-Planned communities
- Aims to become Vaughan’s financial, innovation and cultural centre
- Set to include 12,000 residential units; 5-million square feet of commercial office space; and 2 million of new retail
- The City of Vaughan projects that by 2031, the VMC will have 25,000 residents and employ more than 11,000 people
- Serviced by the TTC and York Regional Transit’s SmartCentres Place station, the VMC mobility hub is used by 15,000 subway riders each day and sees 5,600 bus travellers per week
- Tenants include PwC and KPMG
- Future home to a YMCA and a dance studio
Correction: A Dec. 3 article about the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre reported that the development will be 100,000 acres and the YMCA, 100 square feet. The VMC will be 400 acres; the YMCA, together with the Vaughan Public Library and other City of Vaughan spaces, will total 100 square feet.