I have been much too busy this past week to blog however, when I heard that the Mirvish+Gehry towers project was being re-proposed, I knew I had to carve out some time to write about the changes as these buildings, assuming they do go ahead, are going to have a big impact on Toronto.
The re-visioning is a great step in the right direction for this product. Ok, maybe this new look isn’t as creative or arty looking as before but it’s much more realistic and reasonable. The whole project has lost a tower and while the remaining two are slightly taller (92 and 82 storeys), they are also leaner, meaning smaller shadows. The loss of the third tower also means 600 fewer condo units.
One the (many) reasons why this project caused so much outrage is that the original proposal called for the destruction of four heritage buildings and the Princess of Wales Theatre. The new proposal will keep the theatre as well as two of the old warehouses.
I like all of these changes as well as the tweaked design for the towers. While the bottom portion is clearly still being envisioned, I think we could have something really spectacular here that respects the past and locals as well as pushes the visual and creative envelope.
However, I do still have some concerns.
In a city that functioned better when it came to planning, this would be a non-issue. We’d be able to say that while yes, this project is taking out heritage buildings, it’s a very expectation to the rule and not a precedent. But that’s not how it works here in Toronto. Instead, allowing those two buildings to be torn down will signify to developers that it’s open season on King Street’s history. While the City might initially say no, the developers will stamp their feet, point to the Gehry/Mirvish towers and say, “But they got to do it.” And if the City doesn’t back down, the OMB likely well because, well, precedent.
This is another concern that I wouldn’t have if things ran just a little bit better in this city. But since that’s not the case, I, like many others, am quite concerned at how the King and John area will be able to handle over 2,000 new condo units. Even if the average occupancy is just 1.5, that’s still 3,000 more people in an area that’s already pretty jammed, especially when it comes to traffic and transit.
Transportation is the main area of concern for me because I currently work down here and have to deal with it daily but there are also other considerations like water, power, schools. How will this small patch of ground be able to accommodate all these new people, especially since the next two-four years will see thousands of additional people packaged into King West, as multiple condo projects are cleared for occupancy?
Crash and Burn
This is a huge, giant, massive, expensive project, the kind that if it fails, is going to, well, crash and burn. Here, there’s not much that City can (reasonably) do.
While Gehry has been involved with a number of gigantic projects, this will be the biggest thing that David Mirvish has ever touched. But it’s not inexperience that worries me on this project so much as fast-changing global markets and trends and just good, old-fashioned bad luck.
If this project does sour, I hope it happens before those two historic buildings are destroyed because then we’d get to deal with a flop, a messed-up King street and a heritage-destroying precedent.