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Real Estate Revived by Pan Am Games, Corktown now braces for chaos

When they’re not competing, athletes in the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games will use Corktown Common at the foot of Bayview Avenue for R&R .

There were howls of outrage when people who take their dogs and kids to Corktown Common arrived at the popular park to find it closed this week – sealed off to the public in advance of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games taking place this summer.

But while hordes of area residents were loudly protesting, a few were quietly listing their properties for sale in the hope of striking a deal before the area absorbs thousands of international athletes.

The Athletes Village is located in the West Don Lands, which is a new neighbourhood that has sprouted on old industrial lands. The area blends into the historic Corktown neighbourhood and the Distillery District.

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Ana Harriott, broker at King Street Realty, says the event is putting the neighbourhood under an international spotlight while also potentially throwing it into chaos.

The Corktown Residents and Business Association is advising area residents that, between athletes and their entourages, the area's population will swell by more than 10,000.

The actual competition venues are spread out in 17 municipalities around the Greater Toronto Area and beyond – to places as far away as Welland for rowing, Hamilton for soccer, and Caledon for equestrian events. To the north, athletes and spectators will travel to the Hardwood Mountain Bike Park and Minden Wild Water Preserve.

The Pan Am Games will take place from July 10 to 26, followed by the Parapan Am Games from Aug. 7 to 14.

Parts of Cherry Street, Eastern Avenue and Front Street will be closed to traffic and special high occupancy vehicle lanes will be established on some roads during portions of the summer.

"I think when the Games are on it will create a traffic nightmare," Ms. Harriott says.

Changes in traffic flow will make it hard for some homeowners to get to their houses on one-way streets, she adds. "If you have to go all the way around, you get stuck in everyone else's traffic."

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The Victorian-era cottages, semis and row houses in Corktown often don't have parking. And many of the new condo developments haven't provided huge numbers of parking spaces because many young urban dwellers don't have vehicles.

Ms. Harriott says that the plan to close Corktown Common to the public has been in place for years because the park will be a place for athletes to hang out. Officials are also worried about security, which is why they closed it so far in advance of the Games.

She thinks residents who didn't know about the closing weren't paying close attention but she also thinks communication from officials could have been better.

"A lot of people move into the area because the park is there," she says of the 18-acre expanse at the foot of Lower River Street. "Young families that move into the area kind of use it as an extension of their backyards."

Still, she points out that the park wouldn't be there at all if it weren't for the Pan Am Games and revitalization has also brought a flood of businesses into the ground-floor retail spaces in the condo towers.

"About seven years ago, nobody wanted to walk through Corktown on their own," she says. "Now you can feel the energy."

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She points to a three-level townhouse she recently sold on the small, private Percy Street for $1.050-million after only a few hours on the market. That kind of price for a townhouse in the area was unheard of unheard until recently, she says.

She's also working with prospective buyers from the United States and Britain who are looking for investment properties in the area.

"For all the dread the neighbourhood is having because of the Games, I think [the area] has benefited a lot more because of it."

Buildings that accommodate the athletes will also provide more housing for urban dwellers after the Games. Of approximately 1,300 units, about 5 per cent will be turned into affordable housing, about 500 will become residences for students at George Brown College and the rest will be owned by individuals.

For those owners who don't plan to live in their units, Ms. Harriott recommends waiting for a couple of years before selling so that the market won't be flooded with new units all at once.

As a resident of Corktown, Robin Pope of Pope Real Estate Ltd. is concerned about traffic snarls but, over all, he thinks the area will receive a boost because of the Games.

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Mr. Pope has had a few clients contact him to sell their condo units in advance of the Games. He says some of the sellers are worried that traffic congestion during the Games will keep potential buyers from seeing their units.

A huge security fence reminiscent of the G20 Summit will also seal off parts of the area, he adds. "I certainly think I may ride my bike a lot more and avoid driving."

He recently listed a lane way house on Gilead Place with an asking price of $1.275-million. He also plans to list four Trolley Crescent penthouses – each with asking prices above $1-million. The penthouses are nearing completion and will be finished by the end of July.

Mr. Pope says he is also disappointed that Corktown Common is closed but he observes that the development of the entire West Don Lands was fast tracked because of the sporting event. "This whole neighbourhood got accelerated rather quickly because we won the bid for the Games," he says.

"The Games are the catalyst for all of this."

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