Toronto-area builder Rockport Group has a 55-year history of building what it considers the right type of property for the prevailing economic conditions, from residential condos to seniors’ housing. With the announcement of its plans to build the seven-building Wicksteed Business Park on 9.5 acres in the mid-town Toronto neighbourhood of Leaside, Rockport is betting heavily on industrial-commercial condo uses making a comeback in the city.
The planned development sites on a reclaimed brown field site that has been cleaned up since its days producing armaments during World War Two and is situated close to the Don Valley Parkway and the 401 and Gardiner Expressway/QEW highways.
Cost per acre is relatively high, a function of its location and the costs associated with the remediation process. That guided Rockport in its development plans, said President Jack Winberg.
“We came up with a style of building that looks neat and cool and can be very comfortable in today’s day and age,” he said, describing the designed look as “funky, downtown.”
“You are right in the middle of the city at Eglinton and Leslie, you are two minutes from the Don Valley Parkway. One day there will be a subway stop” close to the site, he said.
Winberg sees architects and other professionals as the typical sort of tenants for the development. “People who don’t have to be on a main street but love the location.”
Rockport intends to build seventy-eight units ranging from 1,000 to 30,000 square feet that will boast high ceilings, large windows, second-floor skylights and plenty of parking.
The developer knows the area well thanks to its ownership of a 100,000-sq. ft. office complex just south of the project and sees a demand for a well-situated commercial park.
“We have also seen a very substantial demand from people in the Leaside area to be able to have an office or have their work facility close to home,” said Winberg. “Our spaces start at 1,000 feet and you can put as many together as you want until we build it. And you can have it close to home and you can do your work and get rid of the long commute which is becoming an ever [greater] impediment to continuing to work.”
Condo Ownership for Business Owners
While Rockport’s nearby building is a rental situation, the developer believes that there is a ready and willing market of potential owners. “We think that there is a demand for people to own their own space and pay rent to themselves as opposed to having to pay rent to others,” said Winberg.
Development of the 9.5-acre site could eventually encompass 180,000 to 190,000 sq. ft. of buildings, he said. “That could take us easily five years to sell and build out.”
The speed of the development will also depend on the strength of the commercial real estate market, he added. “If the market picks up and stays strong we could be finished in two years. If it goes at a steady pace it could be a five-year project.”
He expects to have the first building on the ground and owners working in their space by the end of next year.
A Really Long History with the Condo Concept
Company founder Burton Winberg (Jack’s father) was inducted a few years ago into the BILD Homebuilders Hall of Fame for his pioneering role in registering the first five residential condominiums in the Toronto area. The company has not stopped innovating and staying nimble.
“We are a fully integrated real estate development and construction and property management company,” said Winberg. “We do everything from land acquisition to zoning, sales and marketing and construction and if it is an asset we are going to keep with property manage it.”
In the last several years, Rockport has focused on mid-rise condominiums (of about 150 units) and retirement homes in the GTA.
“It is a relatively small executive group in head office that is able to apply a number of skills to different products, respond to different markets and the changing times of the capital markets.”