Unique Circumstances Lead Build Toronto To Develop Shopping Mall
The City of Toronto has entered the landlord business with the opening of a suburban shopping mall built on a former TTC parking lot.
“Build Toronto is a small company — with the vast majority of employees from the real estate sector. So we certainly had the skill and capability to do this,” Build Toronto President and CEO Bill Bryck said following a ribbon-cutting for its new Shops At Wilson Station.
“But a unique set of circumstances led to this.”
Unique and unprecedented. The new North York shopping mall marks the first project developed solely by Build Toronto, the city’s real estate firm.
The company usually sells off the city’s surplus property to other developers, with eventual revenues used to pay for infrastructure. Earlier this year, The Daniels Corp. announced plans to build three six-storey condo buildings with 30% affordable housing on property purchased from Build Toronto.
But in the case of the new 50K SF Shops At Wilson Station at 75 Billy Bishop Way near the Wilson subway stop, Build acted as its own developer.
Begun last December, the shopping mall project was finished in less than a year and under budget, according to Bryck.
“We’d actually been at [the project] for years,” he said. “But when we pulled the trigger, it happened fairly quickly.”
The set of circumstances that led to Build taking on the project largely involved zoning issues. The 4.5-acre site was declared surplus by the City of Toronto in 2009 and transferred to Build Toronto for redevelopment.
But the property’s designation as an airport hazard area — it sits close to the Downsview Airport — was a hindrance for possible developers.
“If we had sold the land, it would have been a significantly long zoning process,” Bryck said. “We felt it would generate more value as a property — a greater return to citizens. And this was a reasonably small project to start with.”
The result is a modest shopping mall with some outstanding amenities. Tenants include Starbucks, A&W, a nail salon, clothing shops and a beer store.
A pedestrian-friendly site, the property includes covered long-term bicycle spots, an on-site bike air pump and repair station, extra-wide sidewalks and outdoor patio space. There is also walking access to the nearby Wilson Street subway station.
“This development provides for an important investment in our North York neighbourhood with many job opportunities for the community,” Ward 9 Councillor Maria Augimeri said at the ribbon-cutting.
“We are focusing on the needs of our existing community and new residents and doing it in a way that supports all modes of transportation.”
Bryck said the area’s ongoing residential and retail development played a big role in the design of the property.
“We looked to what the area was going to be like in the next five years. We felt an obligation to leave a well-designed property for the future.”
Bryck said Build Toronto may have advantages over other developers when it comes to getting projects off the ground, but also disadvantages.
“We have a great relationship with the city. But in many ways, we are held to a higher standard. We don’t get any favours,” he said.
As a development property, Build Toronto reports the Shops At Wilson Station has already generated 130 jobs, and $1.275 million in revenue from development charges and fees, with $800K annually in property tax revenue to come.
Bryck does not think being a landlord will be a long-term gig for Build Toronto. Potential buyers for the Shops at Wilson Station have been sniffing around, though no deal has been made.
As far as future Build Toronto solo projects, Bryck did not rule it out entirely, though it is not the company’s focus.
“As I said, a unique set of circumstances led to all this,” he said.