What First Gulf Has Planned for a Riverside Rebirth
First Gulf’s plans for a 6M SF office-retail destination at the former Lever Brothers factory site at 21 Don Roadway—code-named Project 21—took a big step forward last month with the City of Toronto announcing it will spend $5M to complete due diligence work on a proposal to naturalize the mouth of the Don River. This naturalization plan would involve flood protection to unlock the development potential of the Port Lands, a 60-acre brownfield site that could include up to 12M SF of office and retail in the second phase of Waterfront Toronto’s extensive redevelopment plan.
John MacNeil, First Gulf’s president and COO, tells us the vision is for Project 21 to become a round-the-clock destination for office workers and area residents (the site is surrounded by Leslieville and Lower Riverdale, and the West Don Lands just across the river). TO's lower east side is projected to see the highest residential population growth in the city, he points out, underscoring the need for retail and particularly office space. “That’s the piece that’s missing.” (A preliminary rendering from several years ago shows how the revamped factory building could look.)
But John stresses that First Gulf’s plan hinges on transit. “It’s crucial to its development as an office-retail destination. You’re not going to have millions of square feet of office without robust public transit.” He says his team is optimistic the province, feds and city will come through with the infrastructure needed to turn the Port Lands into a multimodal transportation hub, with two-way, all-day rail service on the GO Transit line running adjacent to the site; a stop here is also included in Mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack plan. And the Downtown Relief Line, if it ever comes to pass, would touch on the property.
Project 21 accounts for an extension of Broadview Avenue and its streetcar line south from Queen Street, and reconfiguration of the eastern Gardiner Expressway, opening up the area to the rest of the city. Across the river at 351 King St E, construction is moving along on Globe and Mail Centre, a 17-storey, 500k SF tower tied into the Toronto Sun’s HQ, atop which First Gulf added a glass office block for Coca-Cola, plus a George Brown College campus. And John says they're working on plans for a nearby site at 25 Ontario St that’ll further propel the area’s resurgence. In fact, he predicts the city's east side will soon “far eclipse” the west.