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WAM Isn't In Toronto to Build and Flip

A year since setting up shop here, the point guys for WAM Development Group—the Edmonton firm helping to build that city's monumental ICE District—outline their Toronto plans, including salvaging a sketchy stretch of Queen East.

We snapped WAM's retail leasing VP, Rob Mulvale, with retail SVP Stefan Savelli at their King Street HQ, established last summer. To become a national firm, Stefan tells us, “we had to have a strong presence in Toronto. So we opened this office and started acquiring assets here,” including a swath on Queen at Sherbourne and a prime site at Church and Wellesley. WAM’s diversification plan was well underway by the time oil prices started to slide back home. “It was fortuitous.”

WAM's backyard is Alberta, where it has primarily retail-based mixed-use projects and some industrial. It's a junior partner in Edmonton’s biggest development ever: ICE District, a $2B sports and entertainment hub. Being led by Katz Group Properties, the project comprises five buildings, including the 66-storey Stantec Tower, Western Canada’s tallest. There’ll be a hotel, casino, Cineplex theatre, restaurants, and hundreds of condos and rental apartments. “There’s no other urban development this size in Canada right now,” says Rob. “This will transform Edmonton.”

In Toronto, WAM has two downtown sites staked for development. On the south side of Queen east of Sherbourne, it’s assembled nearly 10 parcels, including a car dealership, to form a four-acre site. Stefan says the vision (above) is for three residential towers (1,730 units) and 300k SF of commercial space, with retail-lined laneways providing passage from Queen to Richmond Street (below). “We’re place-making on Queen,” notes Rob, who lived on the block for years. “With the sheer size of this, and the pedestrian connectivity, and rejuvenation of Queen, we’ll be creating a neighbourhood hub, which it’s lacked for so long.”

At the northwest corner of Church and Wellesley, WAM's assembled three parcels over the past year and is proposing a 40-storey, 400-unit rental building with 10k SF of retail. “It’s one of the most vibrant intersections in the city,” Rob says, adding would-be suitors are “clamouring” to lease the ground-floor space. “Everyone knows it’s a great address.” The firm's also working on acquiring two industrial properties and a handful of retail projects throughout the GTA. “The focus is to grow all asset classes here in Ontario,” says Stefan.

Alberta may be down, but it’s by no means out for WAM. In addition to ICE District (above), the company’s packed home-province development slate includes a four-tower, 2,000-unit rental building on 9th Avenue SW in Calgary with 150k SF of retail, and a 600-unit tower on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton with 96k SF of retail, among dozens of other mixed-use projects. WAM’s also developing numerous power centre and industrial sites throughout Alberta. But the firm’s future is firmly in Toronto. “We’re putting down roots here,” Stefan says. “We retain ownership in everything we do. We’re not here to build and flip.”