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Toronto's Club/Theatre District. TIFF Bell Lightbox and Festival Tower. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto's Club/Theatre District. TIFF Bell Lightbox and Festival Tower. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Neighbourhood Scout

Toronto Film festival sparks a condo boom Add to ...

The Entertainment district

The canteen at TIFF Bell Lightbox is a popular place to roost on weekday afternoons. Student filmmakers jostle with downtown financiers for a place to set their laptops, while at the tables lining the windows along King Street, cineasts hang out after a screening. In a couple of weeks, legions of small people will stream in for the Sprockets children's film festival.

This type of vibrant cultural scene has transformed the entertainment district since Hollywood director Ivan Reitman stood on the site of the former Farb's Car Wash and unveiled plans to build the new headquarters for the Toronto International Film Festival.

Art students are showing their work at OCAD University's Graduate Gallery on Richmond; well-heeled empty nesters are enjoying condo living in the Festival Tower above the Lightbox.

It all makes for a remarkable image makeover for the area since the 1990s when Toronto's club land was the largest in North America and NBA basketball stars often took to the dance floor. Local residents and business mavens clashed with the club owners, notorious shootings intensified the pressure and the police presence swelled.

Most of the clubs have been shuttered, but for City of Toronto councillor Adam Vaughan, the area's transformation has many phases to come. He has pushed for tighter restrictions on the bars and lounges that remain and pledges to return overcrowded sidewalks to the community.

Mr. Vaughan wants to encourage more families to move downtown in order to keep the schools, daycares, libraries and playgrounds in the core. Real estate developers, meanwhile, have at least 12 condo towers under way to accommodate new residents.

One of the pioneering builders in the area is David Wex of Urban Capital, who launched Camden Lofts back in the Whiskey Saigon days of the mid-1990s.

"Only 10 years ago it was a really derelict area," he says.

Mr. Wex and other developers have agreed to Mr. Vaughan's push to allocate 10 per cent of their new buildings to bigger units that can house families.

"It's a laudable goal," he says of the councillor's plan of bringing in more families. "It's not going to be an easy thing to achieve."

Mr. Wex says young professionals between the ages of 28 and 42 are his target market at Tableau. While smaller units have been selling briskly, only about 50 per cent of the three bedroom units have sold at Tableau, where prices range from $250,000 to more than $600,000.

"The three bedrooms will lag because they're more expensive."

Tableau's architecture will incorporate the brick warehouse that has served most recently as the Embassy nightclub and Mr. Wex would like to see more of industrial-era buildings in the neighbourhood preserved.

"Those are the textures that we're building on. We infill but we don't start taking down the very buildings that were interesting at the start."

If he had his way, the continuing makeover of the area would include more parkland.

"If I take my dog to the office, I have to take her to the median on University Avenue."

It's easy to find…

Model suites: Victorian houses and brick warehouses are being replaced by glass high rises. In some cases they are being incorporated into the design. Some of the projects in the works include Bisha Hotel & Residences, Cinema Tower, M5V, Peter Street Condos, Pinnacle, Studio, Theatre Park, The Mercer and 300 Front St. Popular perks at various projects include screening rooms, party rooms, landscaped terraces with private cabanas and the chance to buy tickets to TIFF ahead of the masses.

Theatre & Music: The Royal Alexandra Theatre, Princess of Wales Theatre and Roy Thomson Hall provide more opportunities for cultural edification.

Transportation: The King, Queen and Spadina streetcar lines run through the area. A short walk east brings residents to the St. Andrew subway station and Union Station lies to the south. From there, VIA Rail and GO trains whisk travellers out of the city. The Toronto Island Airport is a short hop. But really, one of the pleasures of living in the entertainment district is the possibility of going everywhere on foot.

It's not so easy to find…

Schools: Parents of little tykes won't find an abundance of schools to choose from, but the institutions that are here are long-established and welcoming to a diverse crowd. The little Phoebe Street School built in 1855 near Queen and Spadina has gone through a few transformations on its way to becoming Ogden Junior Public School. The school's primary language is English but it also offers Cantonese lessons to all students. The 125-year-old Ryerson Community School is a winner of the Ruth Atkinson Hindmarsh Award for excellence in community based programming. In 2008 the school claimed the Anne Hope award for its commitment to promoting social justice, human rights and anti-racist education. A little to the west, St. Mary Catholic School has been around since 1852. Today kids that attend classes from junior kindergarten to grade 8 list their backgrounds as Portuguese, South American, Filipino, West Indian, Asian and Central American. High School-age students head to Harbord Collegiate Institute, which offers the option of French Immersion.

Family-friendly services: Opportunities to buy giant-sized boxes of cereal and play on the teeter-totter are not so plentiful in this neighbourhood compared with, say, getting a mani-pedi or buying a fixed-wheel bike.

Inner Peace: Buddhist meditation centres, trees and nature are harder to come by. You may be able to buy lots of outdoor gear at the various retailers here but you'll have to wait for your Himalayan trek to use it.

Parking: Asphalt is quickly being taken over by high-rises.

Harbingers of change

Mr. Vaughan says nightclubs will now be regulated as entertainment facilities rather than as restaurants. Stricter rules will be enforced, he pledges. Ruffians also have to contend with police cameras and security lights. The parkette and streetscape of Richmond Street will be redesigned, with work starting this year.

A new shelter for the homeless opened late last year at 129 Peter St. It includes an Assessment and Referral Centre and a 40-bed dormitory.

The Entertainment District Business Improvement Area has come up with a master plan that includes turning John Street into a pedestrian-friendly corridor of art and culture. With such cultural institutions as MuchMusic, the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the CBC Broadcast Centre along the way, John Street would provide a link from the Art Gallery of Ontario to the waterfront.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Toronto has opened its doors on Wellington St. West.

Market Values

From $250,000 to a rumoured $13-million for penthouse at the Ritz-Carlton and every price in between. A little over $1-million will meet the asking price for a two-bedroom apartment with a view of the lake on the 32nd floor of the Festival Tower above the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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