The visionary ORCA Project, a 16-acre mixed-use development to be constructed above a rail corridor in downtown Toronto, has received a significant investment to build the master-planned community.
Fengate Asset Management, on behalf of the LiUNA Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada, has entered into a co-development partnership with CRAFT Development Group and Kingsmen Group Inc. The ORCA Project is proposed to feature high-rise residential, affordable housing, open green spaces, commercial, retail and entertainment venues.
The community would sit above the rail corridor south of Front Street and between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way.
Jaime McKenna, managing director and group head of real estate for Fengate, said the ORCA Project is an innovative and forward-thinking development which works to address increasing housing demands in downtown Toronto.
“We started conversations on this in the middle of last year. It really appealed to us on behalf of LiUNA as well,” McKenna told RENX in an interview. “It’s really a transformative project and precedent-setting in Canada to be able to create new land and then create housing within Toronto.
“We all know Toronto faces a huge housing shortage, so that component was really interesting to us.
“Then we got to spend a lot of time getting to know the partner CRAFT and understanding their vision and that integration of the residential, the retail, a park component, being able to work alongside the city and Metrolinx. It was just in our mind a real visionary, transformative project that we were pretty excited to get involved with.”
The amount of the financial investment was not announced.
ORCA Project details
The project is going through the provincial and municipal approvals processes, including Ontario’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, as the partners seek an official plan amendment to accommodate the development.
McKenna said project details are limited at this point because of those ongoing discussions.
“What I can tell you is that it’s going to be dominantly residential with a retail and park component to it,” she said, noting it will be at least a decade to fully build-out. “Overall, this is going to be a 10-plus-year project before it’s done.”
The newly unveiled ORCA Project website says the 3,500 housing units will promote family living, with 70 per cent either two- or three-bedroom units. At least 550 of the units will be designated as affordable, another significant shortfall in the downtown. Although the site does not identify how many buildings would be constructed, a Safdie Architects video of the project shows at least a half-dozen towers connected by elevated walkways between the structures.
The latest development application indicates the plan includes five residential towers and a 36-storey office tower and almost four million square feet of total space.
However, the “open space” component of the project remains significant, spanning about 12 acres and boasting “one of the lowest coverage ratios ever for a downtown development” the website states.
The project would include more than 800,000 square feet of commercial space, creating a significant employment base for the area.
Finally, the partners plan to provide on-site power generation and connect to district heating and cooling systems. A solar component and other green technologies are to be linked to the open space.
McKenna said the developers will likely receive feedback on the project from the province and municipality this year.
LiUNA sees multiple benefits for city
Joseph Mancinelli, chair of LiUNA (Labourers International Union of North America) Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada and LiUNA International vice-president and regional manager of Central and Eastern Canada, said the ORCA Project is focused on addressing ever-increasing housing demands in Toronto, providing new transit-oriented and family-friendly options in the heart of the city and reclaiming a significant amount of urban space currently lost to the rail corridor.
“The master-planned development pays close attention to urban resident needs for convenience with transit, retail access and dynamic public spaces including ample greenspace,” he said.
“With a focus on sustainability, the ORCA Project would incorporate state-of-the-art technology in support of energy efficiency and a healthy environment throughout the complex.
“It is a transformative and visionary project in the City of Toronto in a time of infrastructure stimulus for the economic recovery and development post-pandemic.
“This project brings a tremendous vibrancy to the city while addressing critical needs including housing, transit and green space.”
LiUNA represents over 140,000 members across Canada, predominantly in the construction sector and over half-a-million members across North America. It is Canada’s largest building trades union.
The LiUNA Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada (LPFCEC) was established in 1972 and is one of Canada’s fastest-growing multi-employer pension funds with a diverse investment portfolio and over $9 billion in assets.
“The fund looks at long-term return investments while remaining focused on strengthening infrastructure across our communities,” said Mancinelli.
“ORCA is a testament to the collaborative leadership of all partners focused on addressing the needs of community while incorporating a creative approach to elevating greenspace and vibrant additions.
“A unique opportunity to accommodate an extraordinary live-work-play neighbourhood and transit connection to Metrolinx’s planned Spadina/Front station, the ORCA Project will create thousands of jobs, spurring economic growth at a time of critical recovery for our city, our province and our country, following the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic – while working to meet key needs in the urban core.”
Reclaim land lost to railway corridor
CRAFT acquired the air rights for the site in 2013 from the Canadian National Railway.
According to the project website: “The ORCA project is a rare opportunity for growth and reurbanization in that it can deliver change to an urban structure that is not so easily changed.
“For the first time in over 150 years, the city can reclaim the land it lost to the rail corridor and can achieve this without impeding the vital flow of people and goods along it, which has been so important to the city’s growth.
“The ORCA Project intends to bring several state-of-the-art technologies to push the envelope on sustainability. Potential technologies ranging from pneumatic garbage collection to CHP, solar PV cogeneration plants to parking analytics software to even district heating and cooling.
“The ORCA Project is in a unique position to leverage its scale and mixed-use makeup to pursue higher energy efficiency and savings.”