625-637 Yonge is a 3-storey brick building on the southeast corner of Yonge and Isabella Streets. Its anchor tenant is Yonge Street Fitness Club, which has gym facilities on the top two floors and offices on the ground level. Three retail tenants have shops along the building’s Yonge Street frontage, while the street-level corner space formerly occupied by the Japanese and Korean restaurant, Toko Bistro & Bar, has been vacant since the eatery suddenly ceased operations during the summer. A sports nutrition shop operates in a small space on the Isabella Street flank of the building, next to the entrance to Yonge Street Fitness at 7 Isabella.
Sales listing touted site’s “endless redevelopment opportunities”
An online commercial real estate listing shows that 625-637 Yonge was listed for sale at $6.95 million, and has since been sold. The listing says the 28,000 square foot multi-use commercial property has an “excellent income stream” from six commercial leases, and offers “endless redevelopment opportunities.” “Signature properties like this don’t often come to maket – so call and explore the possibilities!” the listing exclaims (the word “market” is spelled incorrectly in the ad.)
Obviously the new owner has explored all possibilities and determined that a mixed-use tower is the one he, she or they like best. The rezoning application proposes a “mixed use 40 storey building having 326 residential units, 243 bicycle parking, 107 vehicular parking, 1400m2 of retail space and 1630m2 of office space.”
On its own, the 625 Yonge property looks large enough to support redevelopment into a slender condo point tower. According to the local rumour mill, however, 625 Yonge is owned by a member of the family that operates the Rabba chain of food stores. And since there just happens to be a 24-hour Rabba Fine Foods outlet in the 2-storey building at 9 Isabella, right beside 625 Yonge, many people suspected that the development application must involve both properties combined. However, it would make sense for the owner to keep the store in place and build around it; after all, a 326-unit condo right next door would guarantee a steady source of business around the clock.
June 22 2011: The 24-hour Rabba Fine Foods store at 9 Isabella Street sits on the east side of the 625 Yonge Street redevelopment site (right)
A person familiar with one of the tenant leases at 625 Yonge told me yesterday that both it and the Rabba store building to its east are indeed owned by the same person. However, he said the $6.95 million pricetag mentioned in the online real estate listing was for an “old” listing from several years ago; 625 Yonge was sold to its current owner much more recently for well over $10 million, he said. That’s in line with rumours I heard last summer to the effect that someone had purchased property on or adjacent to the corner of Yonge & Isabella for somewhere in the range of $12 to $14 million, with plans to build a condo tower on the site.
Rumours suggested adjacent buildings would be redeveloped, too
But also last year a variety of different stories circulated in the neighbourhood, each providing conflicting information about who the property owner was, and exactly which buildings were involved in the transaction.
One version claimed that three adjacent buildings — 9 Isabella, 625-637 Yonge and the 2-story retail and office building at 619-623 Yonge — had all been acquired by one individual or company planning to assemble the combined lands and redevelop them into a condominium complex. Yesterday I telephoned the city planner responsible for the 625 Yonge file, Mark Chlon, to seek clarification on the full extent of the development site. However, his voice mail message said he is away from the office until next week, so I wasn’t able to obtain further information.
Another rumour said the entire north half of the block was owned by the same company that is currently seeking City approval to build a 34-storey condo tower on the south end of the same block, at the corner of Yonge and Gloucester Streets. (The original development application for 2-8 Gloucester proposed a 211-unit, 29 storey condo tower; however, the project entry on the City’s development information website now indicates a revised plan for a 232-unit condo with five additional floors instead).
The only thing that was certain last year was that city planners fully expected a rezoning application for the corner — in fact, at several public meetings I attended, planners displayed maps on which the location of the three buildings on and beside the southeast corner of Yonge & Isabella had been identified as a likely redevelopment site.
This June 18 2011 photo shows the 3-storey 625 Yonge development site, left, and its 2-storey neighbour at 619-623 Yonge Street. There was speculation last year that both buildings had been acquired for redevelopment into a highrise condo complex.
October 10 2012: Another view of 619-623 Yonge Street. Cosmetic World is still there, while the Morningstar shop recently moved into the premises formerly occupied by Fracshion after carrying on business for 32 years at 680 Yonge on the opposite side of the street.
An artistic illustration of the 34-storey condo tower proposed for 2-8 Gloucester Street on the south end of the same block on which 625 Yonge is located. The development will retain the historic Masonic Hall building on the corner. It was constructed in 1878.
More tower announcements expected for North Downtown Yonge Street
625 Yonge is the second condo tower project in as many months to be filed for the stretch of street city officials often refer to as “North Downtown Yonge.” On August 24, an application was filed with the City for approval to build a 49-storey condo tower one block south, on the site of commercial and retail properties occupying low-rise buildings along the east side of Yonge between Dundonald and Gloucester Streets. (I reported on that development plan in an October 9 2012 post and in an August 28 2012 report.)
A 49-storey condo tower has been proposed for the 587-599 block of Yonge Street, seen here from the southwest on August 25 2012
A new development proposal sign, which features an illustration of the tower, was posted outside the 587-599 Yonge site yesterday afternoon. The development plan includes properties at 2-4 Dundonald street, not 224 as indicated on the sign.
More redevelopment announcements are anticipated for North Downtown Yonge in the very near future. At a public meeting of the Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Association (CWNA) on September 25, Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said she and City planning staff are presently reviewing 27 separate development proposals for properties on Yonge Street between the waterfront and Eglinton Avenue. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some of those proposals, which haven’t officially been filed with the City and therefore aren’t available to the public yet, involve locations on North Downtown Yonge.
Retailers struggle as developers buy buildings for potential redevelopment
Retailers in the area have been claiming since last year that development companies have been gradually purchasing buildings, particularly along the west side of Yonge, with a view to assembling the properties and ultimately redeveloping them into condo sites. In turn, the new buyers have been substantially increasing retail rents. Tenants wind up getting stung not only by steeper monthly payments — rents have been hiked by up to 40% in some instances, merchants say — but also by higher property taxes, since the eye-popping purchase prices for the buildings will in turn result in higher property reassessments.
John Anderson, the owner of the Morningstar Trading Co. store at 619 Yonge, told Xtra! newspaper in December that as a result of the reassessments, “All our taxes could go up 300 to 500 per cent. None of us small business guys will still be here,” he predicted. That prediction appears to be materializing. After 32 years of business on the west side of Yonge Street, Anderson relocated to less expensive rental premises on the east side of the street this past summer. His former location has remained empty with “for lease” signs in the windows ever since, apart from a brief period in late August when it was temporarily rented out for a One Direction “pop-up” store that sold T-shirts and scores of other fan merchandise bearing photos and trademarks of the popular boy band from England. At least four other retail spaces on the block, most of which also closed during the summer, remain vacant, along with two shop spaces on the east side of Yonge.
Word on the street is that one particular developer has been busy buying buildings on the west side of Yonge between College and Bloor Streets and now owns at least three prime corner locations, including much of the block between Irwin and St Mary Streets across the street from the 625 Yonge and 2-8 Gloucester condo development sites. That block includes a row of 10 historic commercial houses designed in 1883 by leading Toronto architect E.J. Lennox.
August 18 2012: Hundreds of fans line the west sidewalk on Yonge Street as they await their turn to enter the pop-up store for the U.K. boy band One Direction. The store occupied the former Morningstar location at 680 Yonge until September 2. This row of 10 houses from 664-682 Yonge was designed by noted Toronto architect E.J. Lennox in 1883 for the Scottish Ontario and Manitoba Land Company. The historic buildings were listed on the city’s inventory of heritage properties in 1974.
August 18 2012: A view of buildings from 664 to 686 Yonge Street. Merchants say a developer has acquired many of the properties on the block and probably plans to build a condo complex. Click on the photo to view a larger image.
August 18 2012: South view down Yonge Street from a few steps past Isabella Street. The 625 Yonge Street development site is on the southeast corner at left; the tower rising in the center rear of the photo is the Aura condominium at College Park, while the crane visible on the right side of the photo is building the FIVE Condos tower at 5 St Joseph Street.
Neighbours concerned about insufficient infrastructure
North Downtown Yonge is already experiencing rapid and unparalleled intensification from four major condo projects presently under construction: 50-storey Karma at 9-21 Grenville Street one block north of College Street; 48-storey FIVE at Yonge & St Joseph; 35-storey Nicholas Residences just half a block west of Yonge on St Mary Street; and the 75-storey One Bloor at the southeast corner of Yonge & Bloor.
Five more are working their way through the city’s planning pipeline: 460 Yonge, a proposed 60-storey tower at the southwest corner of Yonge & Grenville next door to Karma; 501 Yonge, a massive project proposing two 58-storey towers on the entire block between Alexander and Maitland; and the 587-599 Yonge, 2-8 Gloucester and 625 Yonge towers mentioned above. Another five condo highrises are either in the planning process or under construction less than half a block from the east side of Yonge Street: the 47-floor ChazYorkville and the 56-storey Casa 2 on Charles Street; an 18-storey at 17 Dundonald Street; a 37-storey at 40 Wellesley East and a 29-storey at 46 Wellesley East. (See my July 16 2012 post for photos and details on the latter three.)
At community consultation meetings city planners held for some of the development projects last year, area residents voiced strong concerns about the pace of intensification, pointing out that the municipal infrastructure isn’t being expanded and improved quickly enough to support thousands of additional people living in the North Downtown Yonge neighbourhood. Residents also complained of insufficient park and green space, and said they worry that towers on Yonge will plunge the narrow linear parks that run from Dundonald to Charles Street, on the east side of Yonge, into shadow much of the day. City planners have acknowledged these various issues and deficiencies at a number of public meetings I have attended, while Councillor Wong-Tam told last month’s CWNA meeting that the area’s physical and social infrastructure — facilities such as child care and long-term care — simply cannot support all the new development already underway.
It’s clear that additional towers, like the one now planned for 625 Yonge, will only exacerbate the problem and deepen the steadily increasing strain on local resources. It will be interesting to hear what the Councillor and city planners have to say at the community meetings that will be convened in the months ahead to get public feedback on the latest proposals.
Below is a series of photos I’ve taken in the past year and a half that show 625 Yonge and its neighbourhood context.
October 10 2012: Looking north toward the 625 Yonge development site from the intersection of Yonge, Gloucester and Irwin Streets
October 10 2012: Another view toward 625 Yonge from Irwin Street
June 30 2011: For the most part, North Downtown Yonge is a low-rise street, enjoyed by pedestrians for its sun-soaked sidewalks
December 11 201: The northwest corner of Yonge & Irwin Streets. Some merchants along this block have said a developer has been accumulating properties, including those on the corner, with a view toward building a highrise condo development.
June 30 2011: The west block of Yonge, across from the 625 Yonge development site, includes a row of historic buildings. Click on the photo to view a larger image.
June 30 2011: Most retail businesses along this stretch of Yonge are independent “mom and pop” operations that are struggling with soaring rents and property taxes.
October 10 2012: Part of the development cachet for 625 Yonge is its close proximity to the prime Yonge & Bloor intersection where the two office towers just up the road are located. They will be joined by the 75-storey One Bloor condo tower now under construction on the southeast corner of Yonge & Bloor.
June 18 2011: Many consider 619-623 Yonge Street ripe for redevelopment because it’s just a 2-storey building on a prime stretch of downtown real estate
April 9 2011: Yonge Street Fitness Club occupies the upper two floors and part of the ground level of 625 Yonge. At present, the building has four retail tenants: three facing Yonge, and one on the Isabella Street side of the building.
October 10 2012: The Toko Bistro & Bar, which occupied the street-level corner space, closed abruptly during the summer. The premises are vacant and being advertised for lease.
April 3 2011: The row of historic buildings at 664-680 Yonge designed by E.J. Lennox. The side-by-side Shkank women’s wear store and Tea Dynasty shop both ceased operations during the summer. The Shkank space is still vacant.
April 3 2011: The Morningstar shop occupied 680-682 Yonge (the two row houses to the right of Friendly Thai) for 32 years. High rents and taxes drove it to less expensive rental premises on the east side of the street this summer.
June 30 2011: The 35-storey Nicholas Residences condo tower is presently under construction immediately behind these low-rise commercial buildings which face onto Isabella Street from the west side of Yonge.
April 3 2011: Another view of the north end of the block. The 8-storey Church of Scientology of Toronto building stands on the southwest corner of Yonge & St Mary Street.
October 10 2012: Looking down Isabella Street from the west side of Yonge Street. The 625 Yonge development site is the white building on the corner at right.
October 10 2012: The northeast corner of Yonge & Isabella. The corner building, 639 Yonge, was listed on the City’s inventory of heritage properties in 1974.
October 10 2012: A veritable Yonge Street institution, The House of Lords hairstyle salon has been operating in the corner building at 639 Yonge since the late 1960s. The tower rising behind it is the 46-storey Casa condominium at 33 Charles Street East.
June 18 2011: Looking south along Yonge from the corner of St Mary Street. At least three, and possibly more, condo towers will dominate the east (left) side of the street in several years if proposed projects get the go-ahead from Toronto City Council.
June 18 2011: Another view of the 625 Yonge development site and the east side of Yonge as far south as Carlton Street
April 3 2011: Looking north up Yonge Street from a 3rd-floor window at 625 Yonge
April 3 2011: The Isabella Street side of the 639 Yonge heritage building
April 3 2011: Buildings on Isabella Street, across from the northeast corner of the 625 Yonge development site
April 3 2011: The Artful Dodger pub at 10 Isabella Street, directly opposite the north side of 625 Yonge. Its tree-shaded front terrace is usually packed with customers during the summer. Management and patrons undoubtedly will be concerned about the shadow impact a 40-storey tower across the street could have on the patio.
April 3 2011: Commercial businesses at 14 and 16 Isabella Street
June 22 2011: Looking south from Isabella Street down Gloucester Lane
June 22 2011: North view up Gloucester Lane toward Isabella Street. This lane extends behind the condo towers proposed for 2-8 Gloucester and 625 Yonge
April 27 2012: Norman Jewison Park extends between Gloucester and Isabella Streets on the east side of Gloucester Lane. Area residents fear that the condo towers proposed for 2-8 Gloucester and 625 Yonge will plunge the green space into shadow during much of the day.