Menkes was a pioneer in developing Toronto’s now-thriving south core area and is now making its mark in the city’s evolving downtown east node.
“The overall area has the best of both worlds,” Menkes vice-president of office and retail Sean Menkes told RENX. “You have close proximity to the downtown core and all of its benefits.
“You also have access to the eastern waterfront, which is undergoing the largest revitalization of its kind in North America. A lot of that has to do with Waterfront Toronto’s efforts over the last two decades or so on infrastructure improvements.”
He cited bicycle lanes and paths, parks, improved streetscapes and sidewalks, and the promise of improved public transit in the future as some of the reasons people are choosing to live and work in downtown east.
“The eastern waterfront, and downtown east in particular, is planned to be a full-life-cycle neighbourhood that will be able to appeal to office workers, residents, tourists and anyone in the city who wants to come and visit the amazing amenities.”
Office and residential density fuel retail
There are several large office buildings either already built or being developed in downtown east, and there’s a swath of residential development fuelling evening and weekend demand for area retailers. There are two major mixed-use projects from Menkes making substantial progress and another will launch condominium sales this fall.
“Office and residential density are fuelling retail, and the retail that’s planned to be delivered are part of the amenities that’s fuelling residential and office demand,” said Sean Menkes. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“As companies begin to move, and as residents begin to buy units in new condo towers, they’re buying based on retail amenities. And retailers want to be in this neighbourhood because of all that office and residential demand that they see coming. It’s all working together at the same time and we have critical mass in each category.”
“If we pick an area where we want to work, we just keep looking for sites in that area because we’re going to continue to add value,” Menkes executive vice-president of high-rise residential Jared Menkes told RENX in a separate interview.
“Convenience is paramount and residents are looking for experiences, and we want to cater to that through finding unique retail offerings, adding office and residential. It creates a 24-7 neighbourhood.”
Downtown east office buildings offer advantages
Since the large office buildings in downtown east are all relatively new, or still under construction, Sean Menkes said they’re “better equipped to handle the needs of tenants today than older buildings in the core or on King West.
“There’s better air quality and natural light. You’re steps to the core but you’re also benefitting from having less congestion. Sustainability is intertwined with every facet of the building’s operations.
“As tenants contemplate their return to work … they’re choosing to lease space in these types of buildings that can accommodate their employees, improve their productivity and keep them safe. These are all trends that existed pre-pandemic and they’re amplified post-pandemic.”
Toronto-headquartered Menkes was founded in 1954 and is a fully integrated real estate company involved in the construction, ownership and management of office, industrial, retail and residential properties. It’s one of the largest private developers in Canada, with a primary focus in the Greater Toronto Area.
Jared Menkes told RENX last November his company will develop almost six million square feet of space on Toronto’s waterfront in the next eight years.
Much of Menkes’ downtown east office activity is located close to Lake Ontario, and Sean Menkes said most of the meaningful sites unlocking the waterfront are under development. There are other sites in downtown east, however, and the company plans to remain active in the area — though Sean Menkes said there’s nothing in the pipeline that he can speak about at this point.
“When we invest in a neighbourhood like the waterfront or the south core or downtown east, we like to do it at scale,” he added. “We believe in the area and have made a bet on its future.”
“Prices continue to rise as sites continue to become harder to find,” said Jared Menkes. “That low-hanging fruit, which was old parking lots, are all gone.”
Sugar Wharf’s first phase includes a building with 600,000 square feet of office space and 75,000 square feet of retail on the first and second floors. The primary office tenants will be the LCBO, Toronto Region Board of Trade and Richardson Wealth.
Sugar Wharf ‘s first phase will also include two condos with 1,600 units and another 65,000 square feet of retail.
The retail elements will include a new 25,000-square-foot flagship LCBO store, a 30,000-square-foot grocery store, a 40,000-square-foot fitness facility, plus food and beverage offerings.
The office building will be completed this summer and the multifamily component will be delivered next summer, with the retail coming on board over the next year.
Sugar Wharf’s second phase will start in 2022 and have an additional 3,000 multi-family units in three buildings, 90,000 square feet of retail, a 50,000-square-foot elementary school, and a 2.5-acre public park that will be turned over to the city to benefit the entire community.
Jared Menkes believes younger residents age out of west-side neighbourhoods such as Liberty Village, King Street West and Queen Street West, whereas the east side better accommodates all age groups and household types.
Menkes’ next mixed-use building in the area will be The Whitfield at the corner of Front and Sherbourne streets, within easy walking distance of St. Lawrence Market, the financial core and the waterfront. The 38-storey building will have 460 condo units and two floors of retail and office space.
Units will range from studios to three bedrooms to accommodate a range of tenants.
The Whitfield’s amenities will include a large outdoor terrace, programmed landscaping, a kids room, a party room, co-working space and a theatre.
Sales will launch early this fall. A January 2022 construction start is anticipated, with occupancy expected in mid-2025.
A gas station, a Tim Hortons and a music studio/rehearsal space are on the site now. A heritage component on the property will be maintained.
Waterfront Innovation Centre
The 475,000-square-foot Waterfront Innovation Centre is comprised of two buildings connected by a second-floor bridge that’s 15,000 square feet. It will include an amenity floor with three conference rooms and a variety of seating areas where tenants can work.
“This is something that a lot of tenants are looking for today as a way to engage their employees differently,” Sean Menkes said. “It provides different work environments for them to be in so they don’t need to be stuck at their work station or in their office all day.
“They can meet with their colleagues or do individual work in a new environment that faces Sugar Beach.”
Waterfront Innovation Centre, which will be completed this fall, is about two-thirds leased to advertising and marketing company WPP. MaRS Discovery District, in connection with the University of Toronto, has more than 50,000 square feet. There are also a few other smaller office tenants.
Waterfront Innovation Centre will also include about 20,000 square feet of retail, including a 7,500-square-foot restaurant at the entrance to Sugar Beach.
Retail struggles during office closures
Menkes’ 25 York office building helped kick off the south core boom when it was completed in 2009, and its One York mixed-use office building has 150,000 square feet of retail on its first two floors.
Sean Menkes said retail tenants in its downtown mixed-use office buildings have struggled during the pandemic because their main customers have been building tenants and visitors to local amenities, such as Scotiabank Arena, both of which have been largely absent. Retailers have been using government assistance programs and Menkes has been helping out, so few have closed for good.
“Our view is that retail is an amenity for a project and we want to make sure that these hand-picked retailers that we put into the buildings are there for the office occupants when they return to work,” said Sean Menkes. “We’ve had a very accommodating approach to work with our retailers to make sure we can support them as they work through this difficult time.”