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Toronto comes in global top 10 for hotel wifi speed

It’s not the sort of thinig you tend to know about your home city, but according to a recent global study, Toronto hotels have the 9th best WiFi in the world.

According to Yaroslav Goncharov, head of the Hotel WiFi Test, 39 hotels were tested 171 times by volunteer guests, who used Goncharov’s test site to clock and record the speed of the service in their hotel. This data, along with information about where it was available and whether it was free or a charged service, went into compiling the ranking.

The study found that 76 per cent of hotels tested in Toronto have free WiFi, and the quality of the WiFi was marked at 61.5 per cent, which represents the number of hotels that offer what the organization considers to be “adequate WiFi quality” in the city. The top-ranked city, Stockholm, came in at 88.9 per cent and 89.5 per cent, respectively.

He says the quality of hotel WiFi, which is of increasing significance to tourists and can play a large role in a city’s image abroad, rests on the quality of local Internet service providers, “and whether local hoteliers understand the inportance of good WiFi,” Goncharov says. “For example, in some cities, hotels value their location so much that they forget about other amenities.” He gives Las Vegas as an example, where WiFi tends to be worse on The Strip than in other parts of the city.

Though Montreal came in fifth, Canada did not make the top 10, losing out not only to No. 1-ranked South Korea, but Ukraine (No. 3), Romania (No. 5)  and Hungary (No. 10).

The top 10 city list also included Budapest, Tokyo, Dublin, Portland, Moscow, Amsterdam and Kowloon.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Yaroslav Goncharov

City hears from the public on the Scarborough subway

It looks like the Scarborough subway will indeed be going ahead, after a Feb. 10 council vote quashed Councillor Josh Matlow’s suggestion the issue be re-opened.

The city had just held its first public meetings on January 31 and Feb. 2 about the still-contentious Scarborough subway extension.

Though approved by council in 2013, there is still no funding for the 7.6km, $3.5billion underground connection between Kennedy and Sheppard stations.

The meetings, which were partially intended as information sessions, and partially to elicit feedback, asked for input on which route might be best, the timing for the studies that will have to be undertaken, and more generally, just how the public would like to be involved and consulted on the issue.

The subway extension is meant to be a replacement for the 30-year-old Scarborough Rapid Transit system, the construction of which some attendees remembered causing havoc with their basements, which had to be fixed by the TTC. Longtime resident Narita George told the Toronto Sun after the first of the two meetings that she was worried that is that above-ground project wreaked so much damage, that the much more involved underground construction would do even more.

According to Tim Laspa ,who is co-ordinating the consultation efforts, comments -- which continue to be taken online -- have ranged further afield.

"The McCowan Road and Markham Road corridor options received the most positive comments," he says, and also that "the City should consider provisions for a future expansion of the subway line beyond this extension. Participants identified several important local destination points to consider, including the Scarborough Hospital, Eglinton GO station, Centennial College and University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus."

The public meetings are meant to be the first phase of the project, to be followed, according to the city’s presentation, by choosing the corridor, recommending the alignment — that is, decide on the precise route and where the stations will be — and a final review. The city promised all of these stages would involve both online and in-person interactions.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Tim Laspa

The future of Toronto building is up and over

There’s a potential downside to the Green Belt strategy that has worked so well in preventing suburban sprawl and maintaining some natural landscape with easy reach of Canada’s biggest city. The more intense the building gets, the more expensive it is to build, to run a business and to live.

We’ve already seen the price of detached homes shoot up to near Vancouveresque levels.

But that, says Barry Charnish, is where the engineers come in.

“We’re running out of land,” he says. “And now that the heyday of condos is going away, the sites are getting more difficult.”

Charnish is founding principal of Entuitive, the engineering firm specializing in large-scale commercial, industrial and residential building that’s behind some of the more innovative approaches to increasingly constructed development needs, including Brookfield's Manhattan West complex over Penn Station in New York, and Garrison Point here in Toronto.

Garrison Point is a development in a triangular plot of land between the Milton rail line and the Lakeshore rail line just west of Liberty Village, and to Charnish, it represents what is going to be an increasingly common development challenge as land in cities like Toronto increase in both density and price, requiring infrastructure, like trains, subways and streetcars, to be incorporated into future complexes.

“Our problem at Garrison is on a couple of levels,” he says. “There’s the noise mitigation and vibration mitigation associated with the rail facilities. There’s also the issue of building it in the context of the existing construction that’s going on with the Strachan Street reconstruction, where they’re dropping the Milton Line down and building a residential building economically so that the client can sell at a reasonable price and make a reasonable profit. On Garrison, we’re faced with improving the quality of the windows, having building structure between the train tracks and the residential component and expansion joints so that there’s some mitigation of the noise.”

According tio Charnish, as land gets more scarce, and more complicated structures become the norm, engineers will increasingly be taking their place beside the architects as the major players in how buildings are designed.

Charnish cites 33 Bloor Street East as another, earlier example of the issue, where Entuitive had to install 10-foot deep transfer girders to support the building on top of the Yonge-Bloor subway station. Ordinarily, that would have been done with underground support, but because of the subway, and parking requirements, the building ended up being a good deal more complicated than it appears from the outside.

Germany’s been in the news recently with their plans to erect parkland over parts of the Autobahn, and Charnish sees the day in the not-too-distant future when major Canadian thoroughfares, like Decarie Boulevard in Montreal, will have to be built over, not with parkland, but with buildings.

The next big challenge in Toronto, he figures, is the southwest corner of Yonge and Eglinton, with its TTC hub, which will ultimately require large spans to be built into the buildings that will no doubt be doing up in conjunction with the new LRT line. Charnish also says he wouldn’t be surprised is the entire corridor between the CNE and Sherbourne were built up along the same lines. “That’s pretty prime land,” he says.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Barry Charnish
Photos: Courtesy of Hariri Pontarini Architects and CityzenDominus


Hotel developer gets on the mixed-use bandwagon

“I think these days, multi-use is the right way to go,” says Steve Gupta, president, CEO and founder of Easton’s Group of Hotels. “It creates jobs, it has a flair for everything, it creates a community.”

Gupta is one of those guys that makes you believe there’s such a thing as a Canadian dream, and that it may be a little better than the American version. You can read about him practically everywhere, and the story of his immigration in 1971, the $100 in his pocket, the truck stop he bought in Port Hope, and onwards and upwards until he is able to say, as he did in the middle of our conversation, discussing his latest project at 4050 Yonge, “Once you do $100 million, $75 million, $200 million, it’s all the same thing.”

Gupta made his name in hotels. He builds them and owns them, more than a dozen now (including the Residence Inn on Wellington and the Hilton Garden Inn on Peter Street). But the news these days is that he’s moving into the mixed-use realm, adding office space and condos to his portfolio.

He has just bought 3.6 acres on Yonge Street at York Mills, abutting the subway station, which he plans to incorporate into his half-million square foot development. It will include 266 parking spaces, have 40,000 square feet of ground-level retail, a 202-room four-star hotel (he’s in talks with both Marriott and Hilton as potential managers) as well as office condos.

“We feel buying [office] condos is more appealing to people these days,” Gupta says, “because most of the office buildings are rental, and people renting less than 5,000 square feet are often pushed out. I’ve been in my office building for 25 years, and I’ve been moved three times. I believe it gives you pride of ownership, and you don't face rent increases.”

Mixed-use is increasingly an option Toronto developers are turning to as land becomes scarce and expensive. The Hullmark at Yonge and Sheppard, and the World on Yonge were early entries into the field.

Easton’s is also developing a 48-storey mixed-use project (including residential condos) called Dundas Square Gardens which, despite the name, will be built at 200 Dundas East across from Allan Gardens. It’s deigned by Page and Steele/IBI Group, with interiors by Munge Leung.

Gupta figures ground will be broken at 4050 Yonge by the end of the year, with about two-and-a-half years before it’s ready for occupancy.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Steve Gupta


Condos for artists keeping Toronto honest

Among the several serious concerns born of our condo boom, the most vexing is class. Even though most towers offer lower-priced units, they’re usually tiny, unsuitable for anyone but singletons who will eventually buy more expensive digs.

One of Toronto’s strengths has long been its class mixture. The Annex is an excellent example, where $5-million homes but up against houses split into six apartments that go for under $1,000 a month. But even in Forest Hill and Rosedale, there are apartment buildings that ensure people with a wide range of incomes can live there.

Artscape, among others, saw the danger to this equilibrium the explosion of downtown development posed, and has begun doing something about it.

Pace and 210 Simcoe are two below-market condo complexes, subsidized in the form of perpetual second mortgages that give buyers their down payment. Though similar to Options for Homes, about which we’ve written here in the past, the Artscape plan differs in two significant ways. First, the second mortgage plan applies not only to the first buyer, but to all subsequent buyers of the units in question. “We’re interested in permanently retaining affordable space,” says Artscape’s executive vice president Celia Smith.

The other is that these homes are only available to artists, as defined by the Canadian Artist Code.

The reason for this, Smith says, is to transform communities.

“You’re buying into the concept of community. You’re participating in that community, but you’re also contributing to it,” she says.

This isn’t the first time they’ve done it, though the scheme has changed slightly. Five years ago, they sold 48 units in the Triangle Lofts. What these two new projects — which are mostly built — represent is Artscape’s ambition to expand the project city-wide.

“We’d love to do this in every ward in the city,” she says, recognizing that art is not just a downtown phenomenon.

The deadline for applications is January 30 — that’s this week — for occupancy between late summer and the first part of 2016.

You can apply here.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Celia Smith

The beginning of private transit in Toronto?

After a successful pilot project launched in the fall, Line Six is set to expand its alternative transit service.

Starting January 19, people will be able to catch the private bus service, which Line Six is calling the Liberty Village Express, between Liberty Village and Union Station during morning and evening rush hours, as well as buy passes, track buses and find stop with an app.

The price starts at $4.25 a ride for pass-holders, roughly 40 per cent higher than TTC’s cash fare.

Founded by Brett Chang and Taylor Scollon, both recent U of T graduates, Line Six is a technology company that charters buses to do the actual transporting. For the time being they figure this gets them around the legal grey area of providing private transit in a city with a legal municipal monopoly.

The King streetcar line is famously oversubscribed, which makes it an ideal platform for Line Six’s innovations, which include the ability to book seats on more than one form of transportation. In essence, it’s a sort of transit version of Uber.

And being a technology company, it’s entirely possible that, should it prove successful, the TTC itself may end up being a licensee.

“The future of transit is not going to be people only using one system,” Scollon told the Globe and Mail, who listed the pair as part of the top 10 people making a difference in Toronto in 2014. “It’s going to take a variety of systems to get people from point A to point B.”
Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Dominic Ali

Aroma to open first kosher location

This spring, fast-growing coffee chain Aroma will open its first kosher shop on Bathurst just north of Wilson.

“As you know, Aroma is very popular with the Jewish community, given its roots,” says Daniel Davidzon, marketing manager for the Canadian company with Israeli origins, “and we thought there was a segment of the population that wasn’t able to take advantage of our menu items.”

Both inside and out the kosher location will look the same as other locations, and since they’ve decided to go dairy there will only need to be one kitchen, though this means the menu will have to be changed to eliminate the meat.

“A whole host of sandwiches has dropped off the menu,” Davidzon says, “as well as some salads,” though he says the prices will mostly stay the same.

The address, at 3791-3793 Bathurst, is in a disused Shoppers Drug Mart, just a few blocks north of where Daiters, the 78-year-old Jewish deli, will be closing in April.

“We’d like to use it as a permanent experiment,” Davidzon says, saying the company is not sure whether it will roll out the concept more broadly. “So far, we’ve had a very positive reaction online.”

With other, non-kosher locations opening at Yonge and Sheppard, downtown Markham and in the RBC Waterpark building around the same time, there will be 30 Aromas in the GTA by summer.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Daniel Davidzon


Smart House takes possession of its site on Queen

According to the developer, things are finally going to get moving on the Smart House condos.

According to Brenda Hamilton, Malibu Investment’s assistant marketing manager, they finally took possession of the site — a parking lot one door west of University on Queen — this week.

Designed by Architects Alliance, with interiors by II By IV, the idea behind Smart House is to offer affordably tiny condos in the heart of downtown.

Starting at under 300 square feet and topping out at less than 800, though it’s not the first to offer small units, Smart House is the first development to make a virtue out of its confined spaces.

The idea is that, at Queen and University, you don’t actually need that much room with the city and all its amenities laid out at your doorstep: restaurants instead of kitchen space, parks instead of lounging area. Though they probably wouldn’t use the tagline themselves, the concept is that you sleep in the condo, but you live in the city.

Hamilton says construction is likely to start in the next couple of weeks.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Brenda Hamilton

88 Scott commences parking levels

The new tower at 88 Scott, just off Yonge and Wellington, has reached its construction stage eight weeks ahead of its most recent schedule.

Kitty corner from Berczy Park with a facade on Wellington, the development is significant for its placement among an almost entirely commercial streetscape in one of the oldest parts of the city. Also, according to developer Concert Properties’ senior project manager Joseph Grassia, the building is also “a landmark mixed-use development incorporating residential, commercial and retail uses within an area that's well-established and sought after by future residents and employers.”

With more than 50 people working the site every day, alongside two Luffer cranes, work is getting done fast, mostly concentrating at the moment on concrete forming and waterproofing.

Construction began last March, and the project is expected to reach ground level by this March, with commercial occupancy scheduled to begin in March, 2017, followed by residents moving in between September and November of the same year.

The building is set to stand out, too, with a five-storey limestone and granite character base that will give way to what 88 Scott's developers describe as "a soaring, contemporary condominium tower rising 58 storeys to claim its place in Toronto's magnificent skyline." 

The view won't be too shabby, either. 

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Jennifer Glassford, Joseph Grassia

The city is looking to redraw its ward boundaries

Ward 18, otherwise known as Davenport, presided over by Councillor Ana Bailao, has 44,280 residents as of last year. Up at the top of the city, Willowdale, ward 23, under Councillor John Fillion, has 93,784 people living in it.

The city figures these ward swells may be a problem, and is looking into redrawing the lines that have defined their boundaries for the last 15 years.

Toronto has experienced an unprecedented growth spurt over the past decade or so, and the demographic map of the city has changed radically, with towers and other developments responsible for massive shifts of people from one part of the city to another and from outside the city into its most built-up sectors.

There are four wards with populations more than 25 per cent higher than the average of 61,000, and 11 with populations more than 25 per cent lower. And since both the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) and the courts have decided, according to the team in charge of the boundary review, that effective representation relies on similarity in population, the city’s hired the Canadian Urban Institute, Beate Bowron Etcetera Inc., the Davidson Group and Thomas Ostler to team up and look into how to fix the problem.

Their first of six public meetings this month is being held this evening.

According to Beate Bowron, the group is taking geographic issues, history as well as “communities of interest” — groups with overarching similarities — into account in their considerations and presentations. Bowron says there have been no restrictions placed on the redistricting meaning, among other things, that the current number of 44 could rise.

Tonight’s meeting is being held at S. Walter Stewart Library, 170 Memorial Park Ave., Thursday's at Parkdale Library, 1303 Queen St. W., both between 6pm and 9pm, and Saturday's at Trinity St. Paul's Church, 427 Bloor St. W. between 9am and noon.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Beate Bowron

Dupont building, vacant for decades, gets a makeover

Toronto is a city filled with real estate mystery. Do you remember that big old building on Bloor near Spadina that was vacant for decades before becoming the big, blue BMV that it is today?

Nite-Caps By the Castle is another one. Nested up on Dupont Street just east of Spadina the north side of the street, it’s less prominent than the former Hungarian restaurant on Bloor was, but much weirder. Its design was, until recently, comprised of weathered wooden planks armouring a low-slung structure redolent of some sort of beach-head bunker, has been vacant for the better part of two decades. Before the short-lived Night Caps with its little button-blue round sign on a stick, it was a sushi place, though good luck finding anyone who’s ever seen the inside of it in either incarnation.

But now, it’s being garbed in bright, new white plaster, making it look a little less On the Beach (1959) and a little more Logan’s Run (1976).

And though there’s been a for-rent sign on the thing for years, City Realty’s brand new signs seem like they actually mean it.

Stay tuned for updates on this charming little piece of urban absurdity.

Writer: Bert Archer

One King West gets a reno for its 100th birthday

One King West is receiving a centennial makeover. 

“The goal of the entire project,” says Matt Black, director of marketing for the iconic building, “is once it’s done for people to say ‘What did they do?’ That would be a huge success.”

The 51-storey hotel and residence is giving its 100-year-old base, the old Dominion Bank, the rough equivalent of a $3-million spit shine.

“Externally we are beginning removing the terracotta as well as some pointing work,” Black says of the work going on this week. “Each terracotta tile has to be carefully copied and replicated by a specialty company in the US. There are over 700 individual tiles that have to be painstakingly replicated in order to maintain the exact look and design as originally intended by Darling and Pearson.”

Darling and Pearson was a late-19th- and early 20th-century Toronto architectural firm who did work all around eastern and central Canada, including U of T’s Convocation Hall, the original AGO and ROM, the North Toronto CP Rail station, better known these days as the Summerhill LCBO.

Inside, they’ve almost finished another renovation covering the hotel suites and corridors, which Black says cost another $9 million.

Black estimates the work will be done by April.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Matt Black


Brad Lamb condo rises on Brant Park

A building that harkens back to both Toronto’s distant past, and its 1960s heyday, has reached its third floor in one of the city’s most historic neighbourhoods.

The Brant Park condos are built on a series of parcels of land wrangled together by salesman and developer Brad Lamb, who specializes in putting such packages together.

Designed by Rob Cadeau of Architects Alliance, with Peter Clewes as the principle in charge, the 11-storey building with planned ground-level retail replaces several townhouses and an old commercial building.

“Basically, the design is first of all in keeping with the scale and continuity with the mid-rise scale of neighbourhing warehouse buildings,” Cadeau says. “In terms of its scale, it’s following suit with that.

He adds: “The imagery of the building is establishing a very simple, elegant, well proportioned white grid which sets it off from the neighbourhood and creates a bit of a significant architecture, but at the same time, it possesses a kind of quiet elegance in the proportioning.”

Cadeau says his design is intended to recall the sort of iron frame buildings you see on Front Street, across from the Flatiron.

“In an abstract way, it’s reinterpreting the frame, the motif of masonry frame warehouse buildings that you see throughout the city,” he says, “but in a kind of modern way. But it’s really portraying that same elegant idea as buildings that really make the fabric of the old city of Toronto, paying homage to that in a modern way.”

Cadeau says the design also serves to create what he calls a “continuity of street wall,” replacing the buildings of various heights that occupied the sites before, which he says had a “chaotic effect on the street.”

According to the developer, the building should be ready by October.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Rob Cadeau; Debbie Macdonald

First step in Massey Tower complete this week

The caisson is in for one of the more remarkable condos going up at the moment.

Massey Tower, the 60-storey Hariri-Pontarini condo being built on top of the old Bank of Commerce building at 197 Yonge, will be a big curvacious white spike built on toughly the same footprint as the tiny old bank.

The one-storey addition on the back of the bank was demolished, and behind the old masonry facades, Tucker Hi-Rise has its construction offices, which this week oversaw the completion of the installation of the waterproof retaining structure known as a caisson, constructed out of piles driven deep into the ground around a concrete base.

According to Gary Switzer, CEO of MOD Developments, “The biggest challenges are the tightness of the site, the limited site access and the care that has to be taken when building next to heritage buildings on all sides.”

MOD is the firm behind the equally noteworthy Five St. Joseph a kilometre or so up Yonge.

If all goes well, Switzer estimates the tower should be ready for occupants in a little over three years.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Gary Switzer

Pearson's Terminal 3 renovation moved into the check-in area

Pearson Airport has turned into a construction zone.

Terminal 3, which opened in 1991, has been undergoing an upgrade since last year, but the work only recently came to the surface when hoardings went up on the departures level in full view. According to Greater Toronto Airport Authority spokeswoman Shabeen Hanifa, there are new floors being put in behind there.

But this week, hoardings went up in the much newer Terminal 1 too, in the arrivals area. A new Starbucks is going in, and one level up, a Booster Juice. As soon as it’s done, Starbucks will be the first thing people see when they come through the sliding doors from their international flights. Perhaps appropriately, passengers coming through down the hall at domestic arrivals will continue to be greeted by Tim Hortons. (And as of today, to add another local touch to the often placeless 2004 terminal,  you can grab something from Caplansky's snack bar to substitute for whatever horror Air Canada was thinking of charging you $10 for.)

Branded as RethinkT3, the work on Terminal 3 isn’t expected to be complete untli 2017.

“Looking at the near future, a lot of work will ramp up in the early part of 2015,” Hanifa says. “We are close to completing work by the east check-in area for an updated screening point which is proposed to open in the new year. This means an expansion of the pre-board screening area in Terminal 3, from 5 lanes to 8 lanes.

“Once the east pre-board screening area opens, work will ramp up for food and beverage, and retail, including a new duty free.”

And by the time that work’s done, it could very well be time to rethink T1 again.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Shabeen Hanifa
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