Soaring 80 storeys above Toronto’s vibrant Yonge Street and Bloor Street West corridor, The One Condominiums is the city’s — perhaps the country’s — most anticipated new development. At 304 metres high, the Norman Foster-designed supertall tower is named after its iconic address, and when completed will become Canada’s tallest building and second tallest structure after the CN Tower. But for developer Sam Mizrahi, The One isn’t just another skyscraper. It’s a passion project that he believes will transform Toronto into a truly world-class city and hopes will represent his company’s legacy in the real estate and development world.
Before becoming the President and founder of Mizrahi Developments, Sam had successful careers in various industries starting at the young age of 16. Before even graduating from high school, he founded Unimax, which imported and sold audio and video cassette tapes to independent stores in Toronto and Montreal. After leading the company and achieving annual revenues of $18 million, Sam left to focus on real estate working on land assembly and re-zoning projects in Richmond Hill.
A true entrepreneur, Sam Mizrahi simultaneously launched Dove Cleaners which he successfully developed into the largest luxury dry cleaning company in Canada. With over 100 retail locations and an advanced processing plant, Dove had earned a number of awards and distinctions in the industry.
However, after realizing his true passion was in real estate, Sam left the dry cleaning industry completely in 2007 to launch Mizrahi Design Build. The independent design-build company offered custom construction services for a range of residential and mixed-use projects in the GTA and in cottage country.
Through his experience in construction and growing presence in the industry, Sam expanded his company and founded Mizrahi Developments in 2008. In the eight years since, the company’s portfolio has grown to include several luxury boutique condominiums in Toronto and Ottawa, including the aptly named, The One.
BuzzBuzzNews caught up with Sam to learn more about Mizrahi Developments, The One Condominiums, and his vision for the future.
BuzzBuzzNews: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background? Where did you grow up?
Sam Mizrahi: I grew up in Toronto’s York Mills and Bayview area, went to York Mills Collegiate and then moved to Forest Hill. I originally planned to go into medicine but ended up foregoing university after starting my first company out of high school.
BBN: Your business background as an entrepreneur actually started with startups in consumer electronics, retail, and dry cleaning. Can you tell us about those endeavors?
Sam Mizrahi: I first started in consumer electronics basically in the blank audio/video cassette market back in the days of VHS tapes and Betamax. I distributed them to independent electronics stores and to companies like Bi-Way back in the 80s. I built the business up from that and ended up getting the distribution rights for Sony in the late 80s becoming one of their distributors.
However with the introduction of laser discs in the early 90s I knew that the end of the blank audio/video cassette market was near. So from there I went into real estate doing land assembly and re-zoning work for draft plan approvals in Richmond Hill.
When the 1990/91 recession hit the Toronto real estate market, I started a company called Dove Cleaners. I started the company in a recession because I was looking for a business that had not been modernised or had gone through a technological revolution. There was a lot of mom and pop operators in the dry cleaning sector but what I wanted to do was to create a national brand and to create a niche market that catered to high-end clientele. I introduced Dove in LA, moving out there in 1992, then brought the company to Toronto in 1994. It was a ground up company, built from scratch. It was also one of the first in the industry to get ISO 9001 certification which was something I learned from working with Sony. It’s basically a series of systems and processes to ensure smooth operations, customer service and involved the modernization of point of sale systems.
Dove was first to raise the bar in terms of quality control processes, green initiatives and customer experience. I sold my interest in Dove in 2003 and completely left the industry in 2007, but the company is still vibrant and active today.
BBN: You founded Mizrahi Developments in 2008. What was your vision for the company when you founded it?
Sam Mizrahi: I started doing small custom homes and construction in 2007 and ended up getting ISO 9001 certification in the construction design build/development industry, which again, we were one of the first in Canada to get. And, again, what I was doing was catering to a boutique niche market that was under-served — the high-end luxury real estate market. These were custom luxury homes in areas like Forest Hill, the Kingsway, Fort McNicol and Georgian Bay.
BBN: What sets Mizrahi Developments apart from other GTA developers?
Sam Mizrahi: Everyone asks me what the similarities between dry cleaning and real estate are and I always say the answer is: taking care of your customers. That’s the common denominator. We’re really focused on the customer and looking at communities, collaborating with them to figure out what’s best for that specific location, and how we can enhance them and add value.
For example, when we did 133 Hazelton and 181 Davenport, we collaborated with the ratepayers associations, community associations and neighbours to really examine what was going to enhance the neighbourhood and make a difference. Most of the projects we’ve done have been reverse engineered from spending a lot of time with these stakeholders and listening to what they wanted to see in the community and developing our projects based on that.
From a community standpoint we’re looking at developing homes for what people want today. There was a need for high-end luxury condominiums that emulated the luxury homes of Forest Hill and Rosedale. What we heard in 2010 was that a lot of people wanted to downsize or move out of their Forest Hill and Rosedale homes and into condominiums if the condos looked and felt like their homes. But very few condos felt like a home and instead felt like an apartment. What we did in 2012 was look at developing mid-rise boutique style condos where it felt more like a Forest Hill home in terms of design, architecture and interior finishes.
We were also offering larger suites and customization. Nobody was really doing true customization where you can come in and custom design the condo. At the time, most of the condos available were cookie-cutter, formula-built types of buildings. There was no real customization that you could do ground up or change things which is what we provided to homeowners. We gave them that flexibility at no extra cost. We took the quality of their homes and build it into a condominium lifestyle for them and that’s what we’ve been best known for now and sets us apart.
BBN: After developing mainly low- and mid-rise projects like Lytton Park Townhomes and 133 Hazelton, your latest high profile development — The One — is anticipated to be the tallest building in Canada (80 storeys, 304 metres) and is located in one of the most sought-after locations in Toronto. Could you speak more about the genesis of the project?
Sam Mizrahi: I was thinking about Toronto and how it has become an international city in a lot of respects. We’ve got a mosaic of different cultures with over 100,000 immigrants coming into the GTA every year. We are now an international city, but we really don’t have architecture or design that puts us on the map like other cities. If you look at New York, they’ve got the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center. We’ve got the CN Tower, which is phenomenal, but there haven’t been any developments or buildings that have become landmarks in the city and stand for what the city is now and how it’s evolved the way other international cities do.
I thought Yonge and Bloor would be the perfect place for such a development because it’s one of the most important intersections in the city. You’ve got a convergence of the Yonge Street/Bloor Street subway line going north-south and east-west. It’s one of the most dense areas in the city with over 400,000 subway riders that go through that intersection every day and over 20,000 pedestrians. It’s a very important intersection and I would consider it a nexus of the city.
If you look at that intersection, you can see that it’s evolving but the southwest corner was left and nothing was done there for over 114 years. It was owned by Stollerys for over 114 years through the family. The family was looking at if they were going to sell it, who they were going to pass that torch to, and who was going to be the one that was going to take it to the next level. Because I am only the second owner, I wanted to do something that was going to put Toronto on the map and create something that’s vibrant for the community.
BBN: You’ve partnered with renowned British architect Norman Foster of Foster and Partners to design the building. Why did you select this firm to partner with? How did the development’s location affect the overall design?
Sam Mizrahi: One of the most important things on Bloor Street is the retail. Bloor Street wasn’t keeping up with the world class High Street districts of the world which were moving towards vertical retail flagship stores with multiple levels and open floorplates. We ended up searching for architects that could do the type of design that our retail customers wanted.
We met with several architects in New York, Europe and Toronto and we ended up picking Norman Foster out of London. We chose Norman Foster because he really understood our needs and our vision in terms of creating an iconic building in Canada. He also understood our retailers needs in terms of customizing the commercial spaces with no columns or pillars as well creating a world class lifestyle for our residents.
Additionally, Foster is an architect with the skills and experience not only in architecture but in engineering and that’s where the exterior exoskeleton comes in. All the structural engineering is on the outside of the building. This allows the residential and commercial retail to be able to customize their units to their specifications without having to worry about columns, shear walls and other obstacles.
BBN: The project has a significant heritage component with several heritage properties located on Yonge Street. Can you speak to that?
Sam Mizrahi: One of the big responsibilities of a developer is how to what we’re building fit into the existing community and not look out of place. You want to incorporate aspects of the past, the present, and the future. One of the most important factors or responsibilities and something that I articulated to Foster was that I wanted this building to look like it always belonged there in the future as well. You want to look at it 50 or 100 years from now and say this belongs here and it was done right. At the same time, you have to anchor the past through the heritage components.
We took what was the past and fused it into a design that’s for today, and tomorrow. So the heritage building at 774 Yonge Street will be incorporated into the new building and will become part of the project’s retail component. We basically evolved the building over a year and half to what you see now in its final form based on input and concerns raised by all stakeholders, and I’m really proud of it. I think it’s an incredible transition for the city and it’s going to serve the city well, putting it on the architectural map.
Sam Mizrahi: In addition to the heritage building, the retail spaces at The One will include eight storeys of retail above grade and one level of retail below grade in the concourse connecting to the PATH network and the subway line. It’s going to be 172,000 square feet which is quite large, especially for Bloor Street.
We’ve signed a lease with a flagship international tenant as our anchor. I’m under confidentiality agreements underneath the lease so I’m not at liberty to disclose who that tenant is. They will be disclosing it in short order but we have a lease signed with a major anchor and a major international retailer which is building a flagship store here that’s second to none. We’re customizing the space in great detail with them. We also have Letters of Intent (LOI) signed for floors four to seven and we are just over 60 per cent leased right now.
Sam Mizrahi: The interior designer is also Norman Foster. We’re looking at layouts that will be custom to what the homeowners want. We’ve got layouts as small as 600 square feet all the way to 9,500 square feet and everything in between. You can custom design your suite to your requirements.
The structural engineering is really incredible. It’s one of the most advanced structurally engineered buildings in the world because of the exoskeleton which allows for uncontaminated interior spaces. The wind engineering we did is also state-of-the-art, modelling the building to minimize wind effect and create outdoor spaces that you can actually utilize.
For example, we’ve created these winter gardens that are balconies that allow you to use them 12 months a year. Given our climate, we can’t use most of our balconies through the winter months because of the elements. But with these winter gardens we can use them even when it’s raining or snowing. You can think of them as conservatories where the glass opens up like a balcony, but you still have the protection of the interior.
We expect to launch sales for The One in spring of 2017.
BBN: What kind of features and finishes can prospective buyers expect to see? What types of amenities will they have available to them?
Sam Mizrahi: The residence will feature a five star boutique hotel type of experience with concierge, valet parking and security. There will also be over 10,000 square feet of outdoor amenity space on the 10th floor. Think of it as a backyard overlooking the city. There will be a party room, catering kitchen, event space, guest suites, spa, gym, home theatre room, lounge spaces and a heated infinity pool. It’s really a five star boutique experience.
BBN: Where do you see the future of architecture and condominium design in Toronto? Will we see more supertalls?
Sam Mizrahi: I hope so. I hope that we have inspired others to come out and start to do this type of building. I think this is the way of the future, especially in dense pockets. These supertall towers don’t fit in everywhere, but I think in the right location and with the right density that already exists, I think they serve the community well.
Be sure to check out Part 2 of our interview as we talk to Sam about other projects he’s currently working and his thoughts on the future of his company.
For more information on Mizrahi Devleopments, visit mizrahidevelopments.ca.