April 13, 2011
This week in Buzz Talk we sit down with Sam Tassone, Vice-President at The Daniels Corporation. Sam, who is one of the driving forces behind both Festival Tower and Cinema Tower, tells us about the growing energy in the King West-John Street Corridor ‘hood, the challenges of building around a historic site, and his wine-related dream job.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did you come to work in the development industry?
Sam Tassone: Well my background is in civil engineering but the development industry has always been a business I’ve been interested in – even as a kid. After university I started working on the construction side of the business and very quickly following that I ended up in the residential business; I started working with Daniels almost 23 years ago.
BBH: Why did the residential side of things appeal to you?
ST: I just love the business of building very large buildings. That’s certainly where the activity was in the late 1980s – as people may recall, it was crazy time in this business, with many condominium projects, and so naturally that’s where I gravitated towards.
BBH: What should people know about Cinema Tower?
ST: Well obviously it’s in the Theatre District, which is an amazing place. The area has been transformed by the Toronto International Film Festival. Cinema Tower is the next step in the evolution of the entire area and will, in a way, pick up where our Festival Tower project left off.
For example, there’s all kinds of inter-connectivity with the film festival itself. Purchasers are going to be able to take advantage of a lot of the programming available through the year; a lot of the features that were created for our Festival Tower purchasers in particular are going to be available for our Cinema Tower purchasers – so they’ll be able to plug into that vibrant cultural circle and can, if they choose, capitalize on unique chances to be involved in activities and functions.
BBH: Cinema Tower is obviously an important part of the evolution of the John Street ‘Cultural Corridor.’ Why, in particular, was the neighbourhood seen as such an exciting opportunity for Daniels?
ST: I think it’s a fusion of a whole bunch of different things happening in the neighbourhood. People are looking for great places to live and they’re looking for architecture that inspires them. Ultimately, if they’re going to buy, they want to buy in a place that rings true to who they are as people and I think the unique character of the area lends itself to that choice.
The buildings going up are truly amazing; they’re like nothing Toronto has seen before. Festival Tower in particular is a catalyst for the next level of development here: a fusion of a great home for the TIFF, space for some great restaurants, and an opportunity for residents to be able to walk out of their front door and be within seconds of all kinds of urban amenities.
Last September there were 15,000 people on this one block section from John St. to Widmer St., and to experience the parties surrounding the festival (including a concert on the roof of our building) and the night sky lit up with those halo lights was an incredible vibe! And these days that kind of energy is palpable for much more than just the weeks when the TIFF is on. A lot of other cities would love to be able to create the kind of buzz and excitement that has evolved down here.
BBH: Obviously, as a developer, you have to know a city intimately. What’s one of Toronto’s best kept secrets neighbourhood-wise?
ST: I love the College Street–Little Italy area. I lived there as a child and so know the neighbourhood well and have witnessed its own evolution. The kind of things that are happening there in terms of restaurants and clubs and places to go enjoy other people’s company make it an amazing place. I’m not sure it’s going to be the next King Street West or John Street Corridor in terms of high-rise development but it’s truly a special neighbourhood to go and spend time with friends.
BBH: Is there a project you’ve worked on over your career that you tend to hold up as your ‘best’ or one that, for whatever reason, you’re most proud of?
ST: Well in this business, you’re constantly confronted with unexpected challenges, and certain projects seem to supply more daunting challenges than others. Having said that, challenging projects are the ones that inspire the people working on them to do their finest work.
One example that created interesting challenges was something we built on High Park Avenue north of Bloor Street. It was the kind of project that really did demand outside-the-box thinking and creativity, to a much greater extent than even a more typical project would. The site was small – postage stamp-sized even, in relative terms – and it was the site of a historic church and had been deemed a historic site. The church dates back the 1920s and has beautiful walls and a very fragile terrazzo floor and really is an amazing piece of history here in Toronto.
Obviously we couldn’t move, disassemble or otherwise act in any way that could compromise the existing structure. Eventually, though, we were able to find a solution. We were able to take the church off its existing foundation, put it on a temporary structure, demolish the existing foundation, dig two storeys underneath (for a parking garage) and construct a 20 storey tower over top – all with less than a millimetre of differential movement from one end of the church to the other. It was wild!
Ultimately, in my business, overcoming challenges is all about bringing a talented team of people together and letting them work.
BBH: Wow! How did you convince the people concerned with the historic designation to allow your plan to go forward?
ST: It was onerous because they do a great job of protecting our historical treasures. We put together a comprehensive construction management plan and beyond that we had to put a substantial amount of money aside in security to ensure that our full attention was on the job. But we wouldn’t undertake a project like that to be anything but completely successful.
Mr. Daniels has built his reputation in this business over many decades by doing things the right way. He’s one of very few people who still puts his name on the front door, and so naturally he’s very protective of his reputation, which after all, was earned one day, sale and purchaser at a time. And the management at Daniels takes this responsibility very seriously as well.
BBH: What constitutes a great day in your field?
ST: I’m one of those people who truly loves what they do. Being involved with my incredible team on a whole host of different high-rise projects in various stages always creates a sense of excitement and gives me the spring in my step. Just being involved in creating new things is a blast!
BBH: Do you have a dream job apart from your current gig?
ST: I’d probably be an agent in the wine business – that’s my other passion. I really enjoy trying different wines from around the world.
BBH: Do you have a favourite?
ST: I have many favourites – that’s the problem! [Laughs]
Our sincere thanks to Sam for spending some time with us!