The sweeping transformation of Toronto's lake shore industrial wastelands into parks and mixed-use communities continues to inch forward, most of the time, at a speed that's too slow for everybody, not only the mayor and his brother.
But now and then, the pace quickens, and Waterfront Toronto (the public agency overseeing the huge project) rolls out some new, small part of the big picture that makes us sit up and take notice.
Case in point: the 13-acre scheme to be known as Bayside Toronto. Located on the inner harbour east of George Brown College and Sherbourne Common park, this $1.1-billion campus will feature attractively spaced office buildings and mid-rise apartment blocks, a park, a lake shore promenade and (probably not to the taste of people who think there are already too many cars on the waterfront) a ring-road that will encircle most of the structures between the water's edge and Queens Quay east.
The basic organization of Bayside is rational and sound, if faintly bureaucratic, and the process that produced it is probably the best we could have hoped for. Like everything else coming down the pipeline from Waterfront Toronto, the plan for Bayside has been shaped by numerous public consultations and many hours of expert input from urban designers, architects, engineers and others. The task of translating the visions into reality in this instance has been given to Hines, a mammoth international real estate company headquartered in Houston.
The first Bayside Toronto development to hit the market is an artistically interesting condominium complex called Aqualina. To make it, Hines has partnered with local (and also large) condo supplier Tridel Group. The two developers have hired U.S. architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia, a founding principal of the Miami-based (also large) firm Arquitectonica International, to do the design. (As you can tell from this list of movers and creators, the realization of Aqualina will be a blue-chip affair. I have nothing against highly successful real estate professionals, and I know Waterfront Toronto is under a lot of public pressure to do a top-flight job. But we can hope that the organization will occasionally give greener, less eminent, more risky developers and architects a go at revitalizing our urban brownfields.)
The site set aside for Aqualina was not promising, and the restrictions on what could be done with it were daunting. The building could not be high. Long and narrow, sandwiched between Sherbourne Common and the proposed southward extension of Bonnycastle Street, the site seemed to cry out for the dullest solution possible: a solid slab running straight from Queens Quay east down to the water.
Instead of yielding to the temptation to drop something boring into the gap, Mr. Fort-Brescia decided to have some fun with the problem. He broke down the mass of the building into so many oblongs and cubes, and defined each multi-storey element by putting a bold frame around it. He then stacked up these segments to various heights along the edge of the park, fashioning an irregular roofline that rises and falls (then rises again, to 13 storeys this time) as the eye moves along it from north to south.
The cube on the lake front end of this jaunty building contains the largest and most expensive apartments. The so-called "Signature Collection" suites range in area from around 1,300 square feet to just more than 1,500 square feet, with prices between $1-million to $1.3 million. There are three penthouses at the top of cube, the largest one being 2,200 square feet in size.
The smallest suite in Aqualina is a one-bedroom loft at just 572 square feet ($322,500). The most plentiful units, the developers told me, have one bedroom and a den, and will typically sell for around $500,000.
Occupation is scheduled to commence in the autumn of 2016. The initial buyers of these 363 homes – at least the ones who actually live in what they buy, instead of being absentee landlords – will need to have a homesteading, frontier spirit, since it's going to be lonesome down by the water for some time to come. The other residential buildings in Bayside are still only gleams in the Hines corporation's eye. George Brown's 3,500 health-sciences students will come and go, and may even shop in the retail outlets that Aqualina's developers hope will fill the ground floor of the structure – but, unless they live there, students won't turn Bayside into a neighbourhood.
Given time and good luck and a large measure of patience, however, the spacious dreams that have animated Waterfront Toronto for the last dozen years might just come true. That's something worth waiting for.