March 21, 2011
‘Visually unique’ and ‘culturally unified’ are the phrases echoed in newspaper columns, councillors’ speeches, and developers’ press releases when addressing the vision of the John Street Corridor, which runs south from the Art Gallery of Ontario, and past such varied Toronto cultural authorities, venues, and hot-spots as MuchMusic, the National Film Board of Canada, ScotiaBank Theatre, Princess of Wales and Royal Alex theatres, Roy Thomson Hall, CBC headquarters, the Roger’s Centre and Queens Quay.
The ‘Cultural Corridor,’ some have called it – and with good reason.
Councillor Adam Vaughan, who has been the political will behind the Corridor’s re-design, outlined his vision broadly a few weeks ago in a chat with the National Post. “One street,” he said simply, “to link all the major cultural players.” Though Councillor Vaughan is the public face of the transformation, the project is actually a cooperative venture initially prioritized by the Entertainment District Business Improvement Association.
The plan will be guided by certain principles, namely: to preserve historic buildings, promote local businesses and tourism, and enhance streetscapes, open areas, and livable pedestrian environments. On the ground, you’ll see stylized benches sitting along tree-lined streets that will, according to the plan, use curbless paving techniques to make the corridor a thoroughly pedestrian-friendly route (but which can also handle vehicular traffic, as required).
But, OK, chances are you know all that. We wanted to take a closer glance at the exciting role that a handful of condominium projects are playing in the neighbourhood’s transformation from Clubland to neighbourhood-in-demand (and that’ll be the last time this article rhymes, we promise).
Studio on Richmond, currently being developed by Aspen Ridge Homes, has been designed from day one to soak up the neighbourhood’s culture scene – and to give back, too: Aspen Ridge has partnered with the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) to include an 8,000 square foot gallery and cafe in the building’s retail base.
The space will showcase particularly accomplished student work, traveling exhibitions and parts of the school’s permanent collection. The gallery space will be clever interface between the public art-inspired neighbourhood and the spiffy new condominium building to the benefit of both. And as for who both Studio on Richmond and the Cultural Corridor will appeal to, Christene De Gasperis of Aspen Ridge Homes has an easy answer: “anyone who loves Toronto, loves to be part of Toronto and who loves great design.”
Hopping a few blocks southwest, construction has begun on a development that has movie-lovers on the edge of their seats. Cinema Tower, by The Daniels Corporation, is wisely working to capitalize on the buzz created by the TIFF Bell Lightbox which now sits just steps down the block.
Neil Pattinson, Manager of Development at Daniels, says that, like Daniels’ Festival Tower project (which was received with acclaim), Cinema Tower was planned with a mind to project the kind of street-activity and action of TIFF throughout the rest of the year. “The building,” he said, “has been carefully designed to allow improved pedestrian circulation, active and animated uses at street level and important public realm enhancements to accommodate the thousands of visitors travelling to and from TIFF Bell Lightbox and other cultural destinations along John Street.”
A new public park is also part of Cinema Tower’s site plan which, Pattinson points out, along with Cinema Tower’s retail space “will act as a catalyst for the revitalization of this streetscape and act as a pedestrian tributary into the John Street corridor.”
Retail space is also one of the important aspects of The Mercer by Graywood Developments and Beaverhall Homes. Its ground floor retail space, which will feature high ceilings and substantial glazing will open directly onto John Street, providing excellent display and merchandising opportunities with strong visibility to both pedestrian and automobile traffic.
The Mercer, which will be situated at the corner of John Street and Mercer Street, aims to inject a bit of a Soho-feel to the Corridor’s southern stretch. A podium with a brick façade will meet John Street on the street’s own terms before launching a modern glass-clad tower skyward.
Stephen Price, the Chief Operating Officer at Graywood, says that there has already been a marked transformation of the neighbourhood since his company bought the land for both their Mercer project and for their hotly anticipated Residences at the Ritz Carlton. “Already,” he says, “this is the area to live in downtown Toronto. In five years, it will be even more so, but a lot more expensive.”
In this same spirit, Janet Rosenberg & Associates designed The Pinnacle on Adelaide’s public plaza which will, reportedly, host a range of cultural programming throughout the year. The plaza will also feature a nifty reflective pool – an oasis, perhaps, in the middle of the buzz and hum of the Corridor’s energy.
Things are exciting along John Street, there’s no question. A recent ‘John Street Ideas Contest’ sponsored by the Entertainment District BIA was won by a submission that would have the square at King and John be transformed into an urban ballroom featuring a “web of individually solar-powered globe lights.” It’s a fun idea that, if executed properly, would no doubt become a hub not only for those living at The Pinnacle on Adelaide, Studio on Richmond, The Mercer, Cinema Tower or any number of the other projects planned for the neighbourhood (our list is far from exhaustive), but for Torontonians from far and wide.
That’s the idea throughout the whole neighbourhood, and, if the Cultural Corridor becomes the attraction most think it will, there’s no doubt it will quickly become an avenue as identifiable to Canadians as any other. Truly the show is about to begin – and certain forward-thinking condo-owners are set to have the front row seats.