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An artist’s rendering of the entrance to the subway station in Vaughan, north of Toronto. The station will be built at the end of the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line which is being extended to the planned Vaughan Metropolitan Centre at Jane Street and Highway 7.

Brokerage firm Jones Lang LaSalle has crunched the numbers for the Greater Toronto Area to determine how much more valuable office properties are if they're located right by transit.

The question is topical, with politicians hotly debating transit solutions for the country's most populous city, and developers making bets on where employers will want to be situated decades from now.

JLL found that tenants put a large premium on being located close to transit.

It looked at 11 markets in downtown Toronto and the suburbs, and found that office buildings that stand within 500 metres of rapid transit have vacancy rates that are 6.5 percentage points lower than buildings that stand outside of that radius (direct vacancy rates of 5.6 per cent versus 12.1 per cent).

Moreover, the average asking net rental rate for office space near transit is 38 per cent higher.

"Our analysis indicates a clear preference for office space with rapid transit access through lower vacancy rates and substantially higher asking net rental rates," the JLL report states. "While this is all good news to landlords, developers still remain cautious and even with the push to densely develop urban areas outside of downtown Toronto for more than 30 years, markets such as Etobicoke South and Scarborough have yet to see functional mixed-use communities develop."

The report points out that most of the city's two main rapid transit systems, the GO Rail network and the subway system, were built several decades ago with an emphasis on meeting the growing demand for office employment downtown Toronto. But in the past three decades office employment has shifted to suburban areas outside of these systems' reach. The average commuter in the GTA now spends 82 minutes getting to and from work each day, and more than two million car trips are made during peak morning hours, JLL notes.

It cites the north Yonge Street corridor as an example of a suburban market that once had limited public transit access, and in recent decades has successfully been transformed into an urban centre. That area now has 8.5 million square feet of office space, and most of the development has been concentrated around the Sheppard-Yonge, North York and Finch subway stations. In fact, 83 per cent of the office buildings in the area are located within half a kilometre of a subway station.

While suburban buildings that are not close to rapid transit have experienced a significant decrease in investor demand in the past nine months, Northam Realty Advisors just bought the Madison Centre (a 432,127-square-foot building constructed in the north Yonge area in 1986 that is right by the Sheppard Avenue subway station) for $133.5-million, representing a 5.9-per-cent capitalization rate, and FamREIT bought 4211 Yonge St. for $43-million at a 6.70-per-cent cap rate, JLL points out.

It points to Vaughan as a potential future success story.

"While we have seen previous transit oriented development attempts in Scarborough, Etobicoke and Brampton fail to reach their lofty expectations, we see a great deal of potential in the developments occurring on the Yonge-University-Spadina [subway] line," the report says.

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