The Well, a massive mixed-use development in downtown Toronto, may well be the most ambitious mixed-used project of its kind in Canada – a bold reflection of Toronto’s energy and diversity, and an extension of the urban vibrancy of King West.
It is also part of the RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust’s strategy of transforming some of its properties into vibrant communities with a strong residential component to go along with commercial real estate space.
John Ballantyne, Chief Operating Officer of RioCan REIT, described The Well as a “choreographed mix of urban experiences, dynamic architecture and interconnected public spaces. Thoughtful and purposeful design underpins everything it achieves. With a pedestrian-centered focus, The Well responds to some of the strongest desires of downtown Toronto today: walkability, community-building, and the ability to create connections while seamlessly blending old and new.
“We are building residential components to a lot of our properties and the buildings we put up are actually very nice buildings . . . All the buildings we build are high end. They’ve got beautiful amenities but to me the best amenity of all those buildings it’s the convenient centre that’s operating all around them. It really gives the residents (the opportunity) to live, some of them work, play, eat and shop, do all that without really leaving the property. The Well is going to be the ultimate example of that.”
Bordering Front, Spadina, and Wellington, The Well is a mixture of retail, commercial and residential spaces in downtown Toronto that will draw approximately 22,000 daily visitors.
The design includes 320,000 square feet of retail and food service and 1.2 million square feet of office space. It has 1,700 residential residences spread throughout six rentals (three) and condominium buildings (three), plus one office building connected to a three-level retail base and parking for 1,650 cars and 1,900 bikes.
Wellington Market will be Toronto’s newest go-to location for market-fresh artisan food, culinary exploration and experiences. The market will feature a 22,000-square-foot purpose-built venue and an activation space for events, concerts and more. The entire market is liquor licensed for a 3,400 person capacity
Ballantyne said the site will be enhanced by dynamic, community-based programming that will draw people to The Well year-round for unique experiences. The Well is set to become one of Toronto’s most vibrant destinations – a hub for culture, dining, shopping, working and living.
A celebration is planned in the fourth quarter of this year to officially open the site.
The project is nearing substantial completion. The office component, in 42 storeys, has been open for just over a year. Access is now being provided to the three-level retail component. The Bank of Montreal is currently open.
Ballantyne said many of the retailers are in possession of their spaces right now and getting them ready for openings.
“They’re going to open throughout the summer and fall,” he said. “The idea is that we are going to have a bit of a party later in the year and we expect a good component of the retail to be open at that point in time.”
He said the project is about 84 per cent leased for retail with another six per cent in the final stages of negotiation.
“We feel by the time we’ll have our party later in the year we’re gunning for about 80 per cent of those retailers to be open and operating,” said Ballantyne. “There’s 76 retail units and then there’s another 57 units in our food hall which we call the Wellington Market. In total, there’s about 130 retail concepts going in there including all the food.”
Two of the residential rental buildings with 330 units are now open, have occupancy and are being leased. The condo buildings, owned by Tridel, are for the most part sold out with about 760 units with all of them taking occupancy throughout the remainder of this year.
“The largest of the towers which is owned by RioCan and Woodbourne, is 590 units and that’s going to start taking occupancy in August,” said Ballantyne.
“We’ve built a sense of place.”
He said that part of downtown Toronto doesn’t have a lot of service-oriented tenants but the project will provide that for not only the residents of The Well but also for the people living throughout the core around the project.
Ballantyne said a variety of six restaurants are coming to the development in a combination of the Concorde Group and Oliver and Bonacini.
“This was a very unique opportunity. It was eight acres in downtown Toronto. RioCan is more of a retail player. However, this was really an exercise in city building and building a sense of place,” he said. “And we had to put something here that both justified the location and provided the required residential density that this city needs.
“We also wanted to make sure that it was serviced by retail that fit in properly to the neighbourhood.”
RioCan has about 35 million square feet of commercial retail located predominantly in the major markets in Canada, close to transit, in high population areas. The REIT identified that cities need more residential space and it identified different components of its portfolio where it could develop multi-family residential properties.
For RioCan, The Well is an example of its ambitious plans for many of its properties across Canada. It has a development pipeline of 42 million square feet which includes two million square feet underway, two million square feet shovel ready and 10 million square feet that is zoned.
RioCan introduced its residential brand, RioCan Living, in 2018 to deliver best-in-class, purpose-built rental units and condos along Canada’s most prominent transit corridors. They range from rental apartments to ultra-luxury condos.
Ballantyne said RioCan has 12 towers across its portfolio ranging in size from smaller ones like a 60-unit tower in downtown Toronto to larger ones like the 590-unit tower at The Well. With the opening of The Well, RioCan will have about 3,000 residential units in operation.
“We’ve created a division of RioCan called RioCan Living which designs, identifies the sites where we want to put these towers, builds the proper tower for the site and area they’re located in,” he said. “So amenities will change, suite sizes will change, esthetics of the building will change depending on where they are.
“We’ll build them and we’ll operate these residential towers in conjunction with our retail sites that surround them.
“It’s a great opportunity for RioCan to intensify sites, help solve the housing crisis that’s going on in this country and at the same time provide residents with the services that already exist in RioCan shopping centres around them.
“The beauty of our model is that we’re not sitting on land that’s not productive. All of these sites are commercial retail sites. They all have active revenue coming through them.”
As of May 10, eight of the 10 RioCan Living buildings were stabilized and were 96.5 per cent leased. Lease-up at the two remaining buildings is tracking ahead of expectations as leasing velocity continues to be robust. Total Net Operating Income generated from its residential rental operations for the First Quarter was $4.3 million, an increase of $1.9 million or 81.7 per cent over the same period last year.
Pre-leasing of the 592 rental residential units at FourFifty The Well started in March in anticipation of the phased completion in the second half of 2023 through to early 2024.
As of March 31, 2,575 condominium and townhouse units are under construction and are expected to generate combined sales revenue of over $860 million between 2023 and 2026 that can be redeployed to fund its development pipeline. Of RioCan’s six active condominium construction projects, 86 per cent of the total units have been pre-sold, representing 96 per cent of pro-forma revenues.
“Urban mixed-use development projects are central to our long-term development plans. We have numerous projects underway that combine residential, commercial, and/or office space. We also create entire communities on vacant or underdeveloped land in growing suburban markets,” says RioCan on its website.
“Our portfolio includes well-positioned properties with significant redevelopment potential. We are focused on optimizing the value of these existing properties through redevelopment and intensification, while also diversifying our portfolio into residential real estate.”