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Reimagining the shopping centre: ULI Spring Meeting keynote

A rendering of the Galleria on the Park redevelopment in Toronto, being developed by Almadev. (Courtesy Almadev)
A rendering of the Galleria on the Park redevelopment in Toronto, being developed by Almadev. (Courtesy Almadev)

Toronto is front and centre on the global development stage as it hosts the Urban Land Institute Spring Meeting this week, so it's no surprise a key industry issue – retail redevelopment  – was one of the first topics of discussion.

During a May 16 panel on reimagining shopping centres, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, four Canadian developers and retail property owners shared details of some of the largest projects in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

It was moderated by Spanier Group president Rob Spanier, a development advisor who’s been involved with projects throughout North America, Europe and the Caribbean over his almost 25-year real estate career.

Since many attendees were from outside the GTA – including a large contingent from the United States – Spanier provided an overview of the market before the participants outlined their redevelopments.

“This incredibly distinguished panel is developing out existing assets, redeveloping assets that are no longer relevant in certain regards, and then creating new ideas and identities for these communities,” Spanier said. 

Almadev and Galleria on the Park

Toronto-headquartered Almadev is a multi-billion-dollar development, investment and asset management company with master-planned communities and mixed-use properties across Canada and the U.S. It has about 7.5 million square feet of industrial, commercial and retail properties under management and close to that same volume in its construction pipeline — including approximately 10,000 residential units.

CEO Rafael Lazer spoke about the Galleria on the Park site at Dufferin and Dupont streets in Toronto, which was home to a tired shopping centre that still acted as a community hub but had the potential to become much more.

“While it wasn't the glamorous type of retail facility that you would imagine, it was the heart of the community,” Lazer said. “It was the centre of the social life of that community, from old people to young people, kids to artists, to the shoppers. 

“Whenever you went there, you would see people hanging out. And what was important for us was to maintain that sense of community and maintain this amenity as a way to continue as the heart of the community-building throughout our development and also making sure that it stays there.” 

When finished after 12 to 15 years, the 20-acre Galleria on the Park will feature eight towers, 2,900 new residences, 150 affordable rental housing units, 300,000 square feet of retail (50,000 square feet more than the original mall), 20,000 square feet of office space, an eight-acre park, a 95,000-square-foot community centre, a library and a daycare.

Galleria's 31-storey third residential tower, offering 426 condominium units and 21,000 square feet of retail at grade, broke ground last fall. The first two condo towers are scheduled for completion next spring.

An existing community centre will remain while the new one is built and, while half of the mall has been demolished, a grocery store, a pharmacy, a pet supplies store, a bank and a fitness centre have been retained.

“It kind of forced us to do a very awkward phasing plan,” Lazer explained, “but it's all aimed at keeping everything alive while we're actually developing.”

QuadReal Property Group and Cloverdale Mall

Vancouver-headquartered QuadReal Property Group manages the real estate program of the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation.

QuadReal has $71.8 billion in assets under management, including $29.1 billion in Canada. Its Canadian development pipeline includes six retail intensification sites that have the potential to spawn 34,000 residential units.

One of these is Toronto's Cloverdale Mall — a 1950s-era, 400,000-square-foot enclosed shopping centre acquired by QuadReal more than 15 years ago and anchored by Metro and Winners. It's located at 250 The East Mall in suburban Etobicoke.

“It does sit in the shadow of a super-regional mall called Sherway, which is well over a million square feet, so we we specifically targeted the tenant base to be a little bit more service- and convenience-oriented,” said executive vice-president of development Toby Wu.

“We’ve always talked about our customers coming to Cloverdale two or three times a week versus maybe visiting a larger super-regional once a week or once every two weeks.”

A 100,000-square-foot building formerly occupied by Target was temporarily turned into a COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic and has also been utilized by a food bank, a furniture bank and other endeavours to support the local community.

The long-term plan is four phases to be built over several years and include 4.38 million square feet of residential gross floor area, 5,800 housing units, 180,000 square feet of retail, more than five acres of parks and a two-kilometre running track.

“We really looked at this from a blank canvas approach and started a rezoning process that allowed us to really work with some of the confining constraints of the site, but also some of the positive elements of the site,” Wu said. 

“We lined up a lot of the tall towers and above-grade parking structures along the highway and then we transitioned that density to lower built forms and the park as it transitions to some of the lower-density housing directly to to the west.” 

Cadillac Fairview and CF Fairview Mall

Toronto's Cadillac Fairview is a globally focused owner, operator, investor and developer of retail, office, residential, industrial and mixed-use real estate that’s owned by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan.

Cadillac Fairview manages in excess of $40 billion of assets across the Americas, Europe and Asia and has a 50-million-square-foot land bank. The Canadian portfolio is comprised of 68 properties, encompassing 35 million square feet of retail and office space.

Senior VP of development Josh Thomson is largely focused on densifying the company’s shopping centre sites. 

“We're dealing with some of the top shopping centres in Canada and looking for opportunities to reimagine them and evolve them over time,” Thomson said. “We’ve seen disruption in department stores, we've seen disruption in retail, but we are generally dealing with some really good assets.”

Thomson discussed CF Fairview Mall, which opened in 1970 at 1800 Sheppard Ave. E. in the Toronto suburb of North York. The 717,941-square-foot shopping centre has 167 stores and sales of $1,021 per square foot, ranking it among the top 20 in Canada.

The site is close to highways 401 and 404 and the Don Mills subway station.

“It just hits our bullseye of what we think is an appropriate redevelopment and densification opportunity,” said Thomson.

The first redevelopment phase includes three towers ranging from 38 to 58 storeys. The longer-term master plan involves 12 purpose-built rental and condo high-rise buildings with approximately 4,700 residential units (including some designated as affordable), parkland and underground parking.

Thomson hopes construction will begin in the next 24 months and said the shopping centre will continue to operate during development.

Oxford Properties Group and Square One District

Toronto-headquartered Oxford Properties Group is an investor, asset manager and developer owned by the OMERS public pension fund. It manages approximately $87 billion of assets on four continents, including 162 million square feet of commercial space, approximately 10,000 residential units and 3,000 hotel rooms as of Q4 2022.

Square One Shopping Centre at 100 City Centre Dr. in Mississauga is one of Oxford’s three super-regional shopping centres in the GTA. It encompasses about two million square feet of gross leasable area, has 360 stores and 8,700 parking stalls.

VP of development Veronica Maggisano said Oxford has spent $500 million on retail expansion and renovations at the mall over the past 10 years.

It anchors Square One District, a mixed-use development and transit hub spanning 130 acres of residential, commercial, community and green space. Canada’s largest mixed-use development, it will include 18,000 residential units, a 2.2-million-square-foot shopping centre, office space, parkland, community spaces and direct access to public transit.

“It obviously is a multi-decade plan, but it's really important that we think through and mark milestones for when we put shovels in the ground or when income stabilizes,” said Maggisano. “So we have a phasing plan that looks at the site in five- to 10-year increments.”

Construction has begun on Square One District’s first residential phase and occupancy will take place next year.

“We could have approached this site with a typical real estate strategy, just going block by block and building by building,” said Maggisano. “But that wasn't going to create something that would stand the test of time.

“We knew that it was going to be the interconnectedness and the sense of community that was going to keep people coming back and keep people living here.” 

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