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Tour athletes village being built for the 2015 Pan Am Games

Stories about cities preparing for big sporting events inevitably sound alarms about whether the venues will be ready on time. But the buildings for the athletes village for the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games in Toronto are taking shape on schedule and on budget, according to Jason Lester, president of Dundee Kilmer Developments Ltd. Here’s a look at the work in progress.

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Media visitors on a hard-hat tour of the athletes village for the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games were told they didn’t have to go up if they were afraid of heights. But the chance to get a bird’s eye view of the transformation of industrial wasteland east of downtown Toronto into what’s known as the Canary District was just too exciting to pass up. The ride up was provided in a cage-like construction elevator on the side of The Gooderham – a neighbouring condo tower being built. From its 29th floor, reporters got a 360-degree view of the site and the city.

Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

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For a sense of place, here’s the view from the top of The Gooderham condo looking west toward Toronto’s downtown financial district and the CN Tower. Just below is the historic Gooderham & Worts Distillery District, which is east of Parliament and south of Front Street. To the far left of the frame is the edge of The Gooderham’s sister condo, known as Pure Spirit.

Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

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Ground was broken in the fall of 2011 and already the shapes of eight buildings that will house athletes during the 2015 Pan American Games – and will later become condominiums and affordable housing – are clearly recognizable in the area near the edge of the Don River. ‘What’s exciting is the plan for the redevelopment of the area was 20 years in the making. The Games gave it momentum it didn’t have before,’ says James Lester, president of Dundee Kilmer Developments Ltd., which is managing the project. The road in the centre is a rebuilt Cherry Street, which will have a streetcar line running on a separate right-of-way at its edge that will loop through the site from King Street. The parking lots to the left will be turned into a temporary media centre and check-in areas for athletes during the Games. Afterward, the site is slated for more condos.

Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

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Two pools of water that look like they might be a future aquatic centre are actually sediment basins: temporary ponds required on large construction sites to keep runoff water from getting into storm sewers. The water is tested and pumped out after the solids have settled. After construction, the area will be cleaned and become the site of future development. The Canary District buildings will first be used temporarily as the athletes village for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games, but the actual athletic venues are elsewhere, in Toronto, Mississauga and Markham. During the Games, condominiums will have temporary dividers to create bedroom spaces to accommodate the 10,000 athletes and officials from 41 countries. Afterward, the partitions will be removed and the kitchens and final trim work will be installed so that tenants can move in early in 2016.

Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

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A look to the east along the railway lines shows what the Don Lands looked like before development started. GO trains park on sidings between rush hours, but there has been almost no activity on the Don Lands for two decades. The industrial area was cleared in the 1980s and originally slated to be a housing project known as Ataratiri. Private investors resisted because they feared polluted soils would need an expensive cleanup and there was a risk of flooding that would require building a flood barrier along the Don River. The project was cancelled by the provincial government in 1992 after a real estate crash. Now, soils have been remediated for the redevelopment, and a flood prevention berm built along the river will open as a public park later this year.

Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

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This eight-storey building will become a residence for 500 students of George Brown College after it houses athletes for the Games. It will be the first residence for the fast-growing college. According to an estimate by Waterfront Toronto, the Don Lands area under redevelopment could have a population of about 12,000 by 2020. Its population was zero in 2011.

Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

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A forest of cranes lift building materials throughout the day as the athletes village takes shape. Almost 700 workers will be on the site daily in the coming year as work continues on the 787 market condominiums, 28 townhomes and 12 loft units and retail stores. Two buildings will contain a total of 253 units of affordable housing with a broad range of housing types, including two-storey maisonettes and one- and two-storey apartments.

Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

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The Canary District name comes from the Canary Restaurant, which stood on the bleak corner of Front Street East and Cherry Street from the mid-1960s to 2007. The building itself dates back to 1859 and has had several uses over the years. It started as the Palace Street School and in later life it was the Cherry Street Hotel. As the factories and warehouses that surrounded it were torn down it eventually was left as the only restaurant in an almost abandoned area of town. Front Street – which used to end just beyond this corner – will be extended with four traffic lanes and two for parking all the way to a riverfront park. The park, which will be opened to the public this summer, is now known as Don River Park, “but there’s always the chance it will be changed to a politician’s name in the future,” Mr. Lester says.

Wallace Immen/The Globe and Mail

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An artist’s sketch of what the Canary Restaurant corner will look like when it becomes the main intersection of the newly rebuilt district. The restaurant with its iconic neon sign topped by a yellow canary will be restored. To the left will be the George Brown College residence, which will have an adjoining YMCA. The residential buildings along Front Street East will have more than 40,000 square feet of retail space housed on their ground floors.

DundeeKilmer Integrated Design Team

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