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Development News

Retail front of Five St. Joseph begins to emerge

Five St. Joseph is a big project, and an ambitious one.

We’ve written about it several times in this space as an example of the sort of civic responsibility, enthusiasm and creativity a developer can evince.

A big part of that is the Yonge Street frontage and what the developer has chosen to do with it.

If you walk up or down Yonge Street south of Bloor these days, you’ll see a lot of those black and white signs alerting you to development applications. Most of them are for towers, and most of the towers are proposed to be quite big. It’s a safe bet that in a decade or so, Yonge Street will be well on its way to becoming the sort of canyon we tend to associate with cities like New York and Hong Kong. How that canyon is constructed, however, is still up in the air. And we have in front of us two models: Aura on College and Five St. Joseph.

The developers of Aura on College chose to demolish the old two- and three-storey structures that have characterized Yonge Street for the past century and more to up the scale ante, replacing them with a massive podium and a sort of super-awning that, at the moment, looms over the street. That mass, which includes a Bed, Bath & Beyond and one of Madonna’s Hard Candy gyms, could either just be darkening a strip of the street. or pointing to a new model for the Yonge Street of the future.

A kilometre or so north, Gary Switzer of MOD is going another route. He’s not only keeping the facade of the old building at 5 St. Joseph that he’s building a tower on top of — that’s become fairly common in this town — he’s keeping the buildings on Yonge Street, too, both in structure, and purpose. It’s staying small-scale retail.

A sign went up on the Yonge Street hoarding recently indicating that one of the first tenants to sign up is Aroma, the Canadian-owned branch of the Israeli cafe chain that’s been sprouting up all over the city.

Aroma spokesman Daniel Davidzon thinks it’s all “amazing.”

“There is enormous density and significant residential growth in an already bustling neighbourhood,” he says. “The restoration and heritage components are stunning, as is the scope of construction. The engineering needed to bring this project to fruition is especially brilliant.”

Though Aroma has received no word on timing yet, Davidzon figures the cafe, complete with corner patio, will likely open in 2015.

Councillor Wong-Tam, whose ward this sensitive Yonge Street trench is in, is currently shepherding all those development applications through council, making deals with developers to forge the new Yonge Street. If the Aura model wins out, we’ll be in for a massive shift, our kids not quite believing our quaint stories of a small-scale commercial strip. If Switzer’s notions take hold, however, the Yonge Street those kids grow up with will have a comprehensible and visible link to the one we did. It’s revolution versus evolution. Stay tuned.
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