April 19 2011: A southwest view of hoarding around 11 Wellesley St. W., between Yonge & Bay Streets. Behind are the Murano condo towers (left), the Opera Place condos (center) and The Bay Club apartments (right), all on Bay St.
April 9 2011: A northwest view of 11 Wellesley Street West from the corner of Breadalbane St and St Luke Lane. A half-dozen highrise apartment and condo towers, and the Sutton Place Hotel (center), overlook the site.
Potential parkland: Could a big piece of prime downtown real estate become a public park instead of the apartment complex that a developer had planned to build on the site? Apparently so — if enough people can convince city and provincial politicians to make it happen.
The land in question has a municipal address of 11 Wellesley Street West, and occupies the eastern half of the city block bounded by Wellesley to the north, St. Luke Lane to the east, Breadalbane Street to the south, and Bay street to the west. Over the past two decades, it has earned notoriety as a site where ambitious development plans fail to materialize.
Back in the late 1980s, the provincial government donated the entire block of land for construction of a new ballet/opera house. Various levels of government pledged tens of millions of dollars toward the project, and construction of a spectacular building designed by architect Moshe Safdie was supposed to start early in 1991. However, with Ontario in the throes of a recession and facing a $2.5 billion budget deficit, the province’s newly-elected NDP government withdrew its $65 million cash pledge. In turn, the federal government and Metro Toronto cancelled their pledges for $88 million and $20 million, respectively, and the project was cancelled.
A skateboard park occupied the site for a few years until a developer acquired the western half of the property and built the Allegro at Opera Place condo tower and The Bay Club rental apartment building along Bay Street. The developer, Morguard, planned to build two more apartment buildings, 9 and 10 storeys tall, on the 11 Wellesley West site, along with a recreational amenities facility for the use of residents in all of the buildings (including two more Opera Place condo towers previously constructed one block south on Bay Street, between Breadalbane and Grosvenor Streets). However, shovels never got in the ground for the final phase of construction, and the property has sat vacant behind hoarding ever since — an eyesore that annoys hundreds of residents in the condos and apartments overlooking the site, not to mention passersby on Wellesley and Breadalbane.
I have long wondered why Morguard wanted to build only low-rise apartments on a location ideal for highrise development — to me, tall condo towers would suit the space better, and might even be substantially more profitable. I have also wondered why it has been taking so long for the final phase of Opera Place construction to commence. Last month, a city planning department official told a community meeting I attended that the site has sat empty for years because the developer and the Ontario Government have been embroiled in litigation over the property. No further details were provided about the nature of the dispute, but the planner said the parties are close to signing a settlement under which the province could re-acquire the land. If that does happen, the province apparently has indicated that it would be willing to give the property to the city for use as a community park — if that’s what people want.
Now, at least one neighbourhood group is encouraging residents to write to their city councillor and their MPP to say they want 11 Wellesley West turned into parkland. A page on the Bay Cloverhill Community Association website urges residents to contact City Councillor Kristyn Wong-tam and MPP Glen Murray to show their support for the creation of a new park. Will it happen? Perhaps, if enough Toronto residents put pressure on the local politicians.Personally, I favour turning the site into public green space; even though I didn’t skateboard, I still remember enjoying the wide open space along Wellesley before the skateboard park was closed off. The empty land and the unsightly hoarding have been a blight on the neighbourhood ever since, and it’s high time something creative is done to enhance the property and surrounding streetscapes. At the same time, I’m skeptical that we’ll see a new park on Wellesley anytime soon. Empty land in downtown Toronto rarely gets repurposed as parkland; inevitably, it attracts the attention of developers, and winds up sprouting condo towers instead of trees. Moreover, this particular piece of land seems to have been jinxed since the opera house plan fell apart. I hope I’m wrong. I’d really love to see trees along Wellesley.
The 11 Wellesley Street West site appears as an empty white space in the center of this aerial image from Google Maps. The Sutton Place hotel is at top left, while the downtown YMCA is near the bottom right.
September 28 2008: Breadalbane Street view of weeds and rubble on the 11 Wellesley Street West site
September 28 2008: Northeast view from Breadalbane Street
December 5 2008: East view from outside the Sutton Place Hotel
December 5 2008: East view from Breadalbane Street
April 17 2009: Northeast view from Breadalbane Street. The Casa condo tower is seen under construction on Charles Street to the north.
March 11 2010: North view from Breadalbane Street
March 11 2010: Breadalbane Street view of 11 Wellesley Street West. From time to time, someone rips out weeds and clears rubbish from the site.
March 11 2010: Although there are dumpsters and construction trailers on the property, I’ve never seen anyone on it.
March 16 2011: Southwest view of 11 Wellesley Street West from the corner of Wellesley and St Nicholas Streets. The property is virtually surrounded by highrise condo and apartment buildings.
March 27 2011: Looking north at the big empty lot. At left is the Sutton Place Hotel; at center is the Century Plaza condo tower at 24 Wellesley St. W.
March 27 2011: A view toward the northeast corner of the lot
March 27 2011: The property is less than half a block from Yonge Street and just a short walk from the Wellesley subway station.
April 1 2011: South view of 11 Wellesley Street West from St Nicholas Street
April 9 2011: Now that it’s spring, weeds will once again flourish on the lot
April 9 2011: This north view will change in a few years during construction of the 45-storey Five Condos, which will rise behind the brown building at upper left.
April 9 2011: Residents of the condo and apartment towers have looked down on this eyesore for more than a decade
April 9 2011: West view of hoarding along Breadalbane Street
April 9 2011: North view of the hoarding along St Luke Lane
April 9 2011: Breadalbane Street view of the towers to the north and west
April 9 2011: South view of the hoarding along St Luke Lane
April 9 2011: Looking west along Wellesley from the corner of St Luke Lane
April 17 2011: More rubbish, rubble and weeds await a spring cleanup