Yonge and St. Clair to See Retail Transformation

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One of Toronto’s most important intersections is seeing a remarkable transformation that will include the addition of new retailers, restaurants, and mixed-used developments. When completed in several years, the formerly sleepy corner of Yonge Street and St. Clair Avenue will be almost unrecognizable. Its desirability makes sense, given that it’s on a subway line and is adjacent to some of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods.

The neighbourhood was quite vibrant in the 1970’s and 1980’s when it was home to theatres, top restaurants, and several upscale retailers that might surprise those not familiar with the area’s history. Dapper and traditional Dack’s shoes once occupied the northwest corner of the intersection and a few doors north of that, multi-brand women’s luxury retailer Ira Berg operated a 9,000 square foot store at 1510 Yonge Street at the corner of Delisle Street (now occupied by New Balance Shoes). Ira Berg opened Canada’s first location for Paris-based luxury brand Celine in 1972 at 1506 Yonge Street (now occupied by a Subway restaurant), and wealthy women from nearby would arrive by car (and sometimes by limousine) to patronize area businesses. The Delisle Court retail complex, across Delisle Avenue from Ira Berg, housed locations for brands such as Bally of Switzerland shoes, Le Chateau, and later on, a Bruno’s grocery store which closed in March of 2016.

Yonge and St. Clair is exceptional and almost unmatched in Toronto in terms of proximity to wealthy residential neighbourhoods. Forest Hill is adjacent and affluent South Hill, Moore Park and Rosedale are nearby. The Yonge Street subway line includes a stop at St. Clair Avenue, and an east-west dedicated streetcar line provides further transit access. And while the intersection is known for its towers, buildings aren’t nearly as tall as at other intersections in the area — that’s according to Brandon Donnelly, Vice President at Slate Asset Management, who is helping spearhead a spectacular redevelopment of the immediate area.

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One of Slate’s more ambitious proposals is a stunning 48-storey mixed-use tower on the site of the former Ira Berg store as well as adjacent properties to the south. Designed by Chicago-based Studio Gang, the high-end residential portion of the tower will feature more than 250 residences averaging more than 1,000 square feet each, and there will be a retail component at its base. It’s one of several developments that are proposed in the area which is poised for a transformation that could make it almost unrecognizable.

Slate Asset Management owns the buildings at all four corners of the Yonge Street and St. Clair intersection, and the developer is in the process of transforming the area by renovating buildings as well as the public realm. A business Improvement Area was created a couple of years ago, as was related branding in order to created unified messaging about the future of the area. “It’s not just about the buildings” said Mr. Donnelly, discussing how parties came together with a unified vision for the area.

The public realm was first modified in the summer of 2016 when Slate commissioned a large piece of art work on the side of the 12-storey Padulo building at 1 St. Clair Avenue West (at the southwest corner of the intersection). Artist Phlegm created a distinctive 8-storey black-and-white mural of a human body composed of iconic Toronto landmarks that is visible from blocks away. According to Katie Fong, a Director at Slate, the mural was an initial step to show the community that changes to the area were happening quickly, and that they’d be substantial.

STUDIO GANG RENDERINGS. PHOTOS (ABOVE AND BELOW): KG&A
GENSLER’S ‘RAVINE BENCH’

The next modification to the area’s public realm happened at the northeast corner of the intersection last year when Slate commissioned new sidewalks as well as a unique seating area. Dark granite sidewalks, similar in appearance to those on Toronto’s luxurious ‘Mink Mile’, elevate the corner which is anchored by a renovated TD Bank. Design firm Gensler created a unique seating area at the corner called Ravine Bench, referencing the rambling forested ravines that characterize the area.

Connected to the TD-anchored office building at 2 St. Clair Avenue East is the St. Clair Centre, which is seeing a significant renovation that includes new common areas, new retailers, and an expanded Loblaws grocery store that will be twice the size when completed. Ms. Fong noted that 2 St. Clair East and the St. Clair Centre will be connected with unified flooring tile which will create a seamless experience for those passing from one property to the next. St. Clair Centre’s landlord Whittington, which also owns The Weston Centre at 22 St. Clair Avenue East, plans to redevelop much of the block’s surface parking with a multi-use development that will include high-rise residential units, while also maintaining a significant amount of office space. 

At the northwest corner of the intersection, Slate is overhauling an existing mixed-use building that will include two levels of retail anchored by a new Buca restaurant at its corner. Buca was represented by the team of Stan Vyriotes and David Wedemire of DWSV Remax Ultimate Realty Inc., who explained how the area’s demographics and proposed development made the decision to open at the corner an easy one.

RESTAURANT ‘BUCA’ WILL ANCHOR THE NORTHWEST CORNER OF YONGE AND ST. CLAIR. RENDERING VIA SLATE/GENSLER

Prior to Buca’s opening, however, construction hoarding has allowed for a 40-foot high public mural that ads character to the area. When completed, the retail component at the corner will also include a new location for healthy eating concept iQ. Existing locations for David’s Tea and hair salon Fiorio (now rebranded as ‘Salon Scavo’) will remain on site as well, providing a cohesive retail experience. Design firm Gensler is also working on the complex in an effort to create something considerably more modern and upscale — a floor of retail is being removed, according to Ms. Fong, in order to create 30-foot high ceilings for Buca. Energy efficiency, sustainability and diversity of uses will be key to that as well as other Slate developments in the area.

Brandon Donnelly explained how the block will see its five access points reduced to three in order to improve traffic flow. Redevelopment, including the new Studio Gang tower, will create a physically connected parking structure below that will allow for more pedestrian flow at street-level. Slate is expected to hold a design competition to create a canopied pedestrian pathway that will connect St. Clair Avenue to the park to the north, replacing an existing walkway between two office towers.

As well, an existing park facing Delisle Avenue will be expanded by about 50% by replacing an existing surface parking lot. Mr. Donnelly explained how new retail spaces will face onto the park, creating a unique opportunity similar to that of retail facing towards Village of Yorkville Park in Toronto.

The 48-storey Studio Gang tower will also include retail space with an ultimate configuration to be determined once the proposed project’s design is approved by the City of Toronto. Slate has included some exceptional public realm improvements on Yonge Street, including wider sidewalks which will be created by pushing back some heritage facades while other adjacent buildings are demolished for the redevelopment.

THE CURRENT NEW BALANCE STORE AT THE SOUTHWEST CORNER OF YONGE AND DELISLE WAS ONCE HOME TO WOMEN’S MULTI-BRAND LUXURY RETAILER ‘IRA BERG’, WHICH ALSO OPERATED AN ADJACENT CELINE BOUTIQUE. THIS BUILDING WILL BE DEMOLISHED FOR THE 48-STOREY STUDIO GANG TOWER
CURRENT NORTHEAST CORNER OF YONGE AND ST. CLAIR. PHOTO: CRAIG PATTERSON

The southeast corner of the intersection will also see some significant modifications. Scotiabank will remain the anchor tenant on the corner of a renovated building that will see a reconfigured ground floor and retail concourse. Included will be a new retail entrance off of Yonge Street that will draw shoppers and commuters into the building (a subway station is connected underground) with the podium to be re-glazed in a dramatic transformation. New retail will be created on the ground level as well as on the concourse level, offering exceptional visibility to those accessing the subway.

The office tower at 21 St. Clair Avenue East will also see modifications at its retail level with a new Mary B. Kitchen and Playa Cabana restaurants set to open on site. Brokerage CBRE’s Toronto office has been instrumental in picking tenants for the area and continue to speak to various interested commercial tenants, under the direction of Arlin Markowitz, Alex Edmison, Jackson Turner and Teddy Taggart.

ABOVE: CURRENT SOUTHEAST CORNER OF YONGE AND ST. CLAIR. BELOW: FUTURE RENDERING, VIA GENSLER

Several other developments are proposed on Yonge Street south of the intersection as well, with retail opportunity at the base of each of them. The added residents to the area will create increased demand for retail and other services as Yonge and St. Clair matures with new development and public realm improvements.

The revival of Yonge and St. Clair is a welcome addition to the city — Mr. Donnelly noted that for years the intersection “doesn’t reflect the community around it,” as it had “lost a bit of its lustre over the years”. The goal is to recreate some of the vibrancy seen in times past, while looking to a future that will include enhanced retail and restaurants, as well as an enhanced public realm that will include updated sidewalks, mid-block pedestrian access and an expanded public park that will be available to locals as well as visitors. Given the strong demographics in the immediate area, as well as the exceptional connectivity as a transit crossroads, the intersection is likely to become, again, one of the most desirable in the city to work, live and play.

  1. Great story, as always. This is my neighbourhood, so I’m glad to see some development love is moving in. It has been baffling that there has been so much development all over the city, but nothing at St. Clair!

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