How Massey Tower Will Help Restore Yonge And Queen To Its Former Glory
Construction’s nearing ground level on MOD Development's Massey Tower, a 60-storey project at 197 Yonge St that'll have a century-old bank building as its front entrance. CEO Gary Switzer took Bisnow on a tour.
We snapped Gary, right, on-site with MOD construction director Aidan Ball, who's managing a hugely complex endeavour, with excavation and materials deliveries occurring on a block crowded with a municipal laneway and easements and loading areas for the adjacent Heintzman Building and Elgin and Winter Garden theatres. The crane must avoid St. Michael's Hospital-bound helicopters, and the property backs onto that of project namesake Massey Hall, to which MOD donated land to build new back-of-house facilities. Other developers looked at buying the site, Gary says, but “they just couldn’t figure out how to make it work. And there were easier pickings in the old days.”
But Gary and his team, including MOD president Noorez Lalani and JV partners Tricon Capital and Intracorp, figured it out, and Massey Tower will do much to reinvigorate a key stretch of the city's main drag. “We love Yonge, and we aren’t afraid of dealing with heritage." (Just up the street, Gary's firm is wrapping up construction on heritage-rich Five St. Joseph.) The 1905 Bank of Commerce building, whose front section will serve as Massey Tower’s entryway—with restored mosaic floor medallion and marble stairwell—had sat vacant for decades and was in rough shape when MOD acquired the property in 2011. “It was demolition by neglect."
The development adds momentum to a section of Yonge that’s poised for a big year, with the arrival of Saks Fifth Avenue at the Hudson’s Bay building at Yonge and Queen (and plans for a food court run by Oliver & Bonacini), and the opening of Nordstrom in the former Sears space at CF Toronto Eaton Centre. “We’re right between them,” notes Gary. Decades after the shopping centre's original inward-focused iteration was blamed for squashing street life along this stretch of Yonge, it counts for something, says Gary, that these major US retailers have chosen to locate here. “They’re not going to Bloor. That's a real shot in the arm for the area.”
Slated for 2018 completion, Massey Tower will have 5,500 SF of commercial space (likely a retail-restaurant combo) in a new glass-enclosed pavilion built over the small parkette that sat between the BOC building and its architectural cousin, the Bank of Toronto building, at 205 Yonge. Massey Tower will be set back from the street, enabling its retail pavilion to highlight views of the neighbouring heritage building. And with the building's retail, amenities and parking taking up the first 10 floors, dwellers in all of Massey Tower's 700 units (90% sold) will enjoy unobstructed views.
An architect and ex planner, Gary has great passion for urban history (we recommend following him on Instagram: “You’ll never find me taking pictures of my food”). Yonge and Queen was Toronto's original centre ice, its historic heart. “You look at photos, and the streets were so packed you’d think it was a parade, but it was just every day," he says. So he's chuffed to be helping restore the intersection to its former glory, including salvaging what remains of a lovely old bank building that'd been left to wither. And with new retail cropping up all around Massey Tower, and Massey Hall and St. Michael's Hospital being redeveloped behind it, “things are getting better and better.”