Under-utilized office condo concept coming to Toronto

After a couple years of planning and wrangling with city officials, St. Thomas Commercial Developments Inc. has taken the wraps off its 7 St. Thomas project.

The 93,000 square foot luxury office condominium, scheduled for completion in the fall of 2014 and “one of the first of its kind in Toronto,” is located in the tony Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood at the corner of Sultan and St. Thomas Streets.

“There are not a lot of commercial condos, this is relatively new,” said Patrick Quigley, President of St. Thomas Developments.

“Commercial condos are something you see in New York, even in Chicago, certainly in Hong Kong and Europe.”

Designed by the Hariri Pontarini architecture firm, the development is built around six existing 1880s-era heritage buildings fronting a new nine-storey contemporary glass tower.

“Because of the expensive location, this is probably the most expensive piece of real estate in Toronto, and the design work we are doing, the curved fritted glass curtain wall, our expectation is to make it a prestigious building not unlike One St. Thomas,” said Quigley.

7 St. Thomas St., located in Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood in Toronto

That building, a 29-storey art deco themed residential condo building designed by New York architect Robert Stern, features starting prices of $1-million for 1,200 sq. ft., according to Toronto Life magazine.

Rents for 7 St. Thomas are expected to be a little more modest. “Overall our average price is about $830 a square foot” in the new tower, said Quigley. Office suites (ranging from 620-93,000 square feet) will start at $450,000.

The developer has some early buyers, particularly for the retail component in the heritage buildings. “In the building, we have people who have been in it two or three times looking for either half-floor or full-floor purchases. They are mid-sized law firms, a fund manager, pretty much across the board.”

Uptown, Not Bay St., Vibe

The developer expects to compete with – and perhaps poach – tenants from the gleaming towers that comprise the city’s financial core.

“There are a lot of firms that have to be down at King and Bay, it is just the nature of their business. There are a lot of firms that don’t have to be there and being here in the Bay-Bloor, Yorkville area is just a completely different type of environment.”

Quigley is not sure why the office condo concept has not caught on in Canadian markets like in much of the developed world, but believes the relatively small size of the project makes it achievable.

“I don’t think we would look at doing this if this was a 500,000 sq. ft. building. Our total gross floor area is only 93,000 sq. ft. The whole concept really aligns with this idea of ownership by mid and small-sized firms.”

Long Time Coming

The necessity to include the century-old heritage buildings made the development process much longer and more detailed than a typical project.

“This was the equivalent of two or three projects,” he said. “We submitted our rezoning application two years ago and our rezoning was approved in July.

“Whatever we did here, there was going to be a substantial heritage component and it was going to be a process that we had to deal with,” Quigley added.

“In the end I would say the heritage preservation department were very cooperative in working with us and trying to make it work.”

Unique design

7 St. Thomas includes a podium, part of the nine-storey tower, that will wrap around the heritage buildings “and matching them in scale and proportion and using glass and stone to contrast and enhance the existing façades,” the developer states.

The tower’s white fritted glass features a frieze motif derived from elements found in the original buildings.

The tower is designed to complement, rather than over-shadow the surrounding, stately old buildings. “The glass tower was designed as a neutral backdrop to the existing heritage buildings in order to highlight their architectural and contextual character,” explained David Pontarini, Partner-in-Charge of Hariri Pontarini Architects in a 7 St. Thomas release.

“The design also contributes to the public realm, transforming Sultan Street from what is largely a servicing corridor into a pedestrian friendly, urban piazza.”

The development will feature environmental touches such as a rain cistern, glare and heat reduction due to its fritted glass envelope, and a roof covered with low maintenance water efficient vegetation.

Paul is a writer, editor and media trainer based in Toronto with over 25 years of experience as a business reporter. He has written for Canada’s major news services on…

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Paul is a writer, editor and media trainer based in Toronto with over 25 years of experience as a business reporter. He has written for Canada’s major news services on…

Read more

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