UPDATE: CENTRE BLOCK RENAISSANCE
Construction on first phase of developer's vision could start next year
KITCHENER (Jun 26, 2007)
Details of Andrin Limited's plans for downtown Kitchener's Centre Block were displayed at City Hall last night. The first phase, shown in this artist's rendition, includes a three-storey building along King Street, with some retail and living space.
Kitchener city councillors Kelly Galloway and Berry Vrbanovic look over the scale model of the Kitchener downtown Centre Block redevelopment. Councillors and the public had their first look at the plans last night.
This aerial view of the artist's conception shows a 12-storey condo tower fronting along King Street (on the left) and a water feature and courtyard (centre) and a 18-storey condo tower in phase two, in the upper right, at the corner of Young and Duke streets. Nearly the entire site will sit on top of three floors of underground parking.
Peter Smith is willing to bet about $90 million
that a moribund chunk of city-owned land in the core can be transformed into a vital and thriving collection of condominiums, retail outlets, specially designed units for artists and a central courtyard.
Smith is the president of Brantford-based Andrin Limited, the developer who wants the nod from city council to redevelop the 2.6 acres of publicly owned land on the Centre Block, which is bounded by King, Young, Duke and Ontario streets.
Yesterday, the public consultations began when a detailed model of the proposed development was made public in the City Hall Rotunda. Dozens of curious citizens studied the model and illustrations around the room.
Smith's company converted the Kaufman building into 270 condominiums -- that project is worth nearly $40 million.
"We responded to this proposal call because of the success of Kaufman,"
Smith said in an interview prior to his presentation to city council yesterday evening.
The Kaufman project sold out in a matter of months and the first residents started moving in a few weeks ago.
The success of Kaufman "demonstrated to us that Kitchener is ready for downtown living
," Smith said.
"We also feel positive about the marketplace. We wouldn't go into this if we didn't think we could market these units," Smith said.
"We feel pretty confident there is an appetite in downtown Kitchener for revitalization
," Smith said.
In a perfect world, Smith said construction could begin in the fall of 2008 on the first phase, which includes a three-storey building along King Street with some retail and live-work units for artists. Behind that will be a condo tower with 12 floors and the underground-parking garage. That first phase will have 156 units.
"While we are doing that we would market phase two, and our plan on phase two is to start that roughly in 2009," Smith said.
The second phase includes an 18-storey condo tower and a three-storey building that wraps around both Young and Duke streets.
The second phase includes about 270 units.
"The third phase is the redevelopment of the Mayfair Hotel, and the building next door and we see that roughly in the 2011 time frame," Smith said.
"So basically, we are looking at five to six years for total build out," Smith said.
The units will sell for about $300-per-square foot.
That compares with about $270-a-square foot for the last units sold at the Kaufman Lofts.
"So if you said a unit had 600-square-feet, that would be $180,000," Smith said.
"It won't be cheap, and obviously we have to respect what the marketplace can afford," Smith said.
Andrin Limited has hired Quadrangle Architects of Toronto to design the new Centre Block.
That's the same architectural firm that did the Kaufman Lofts, and has worked on several signature buildings in downtown Toronto, including the St. James Condominiums, the Candy Lofts, the Chocolate Factory Lofts and the CHUM-TV building.
For about seven years, Centre Block has been little more than a litter-strewn parking lot.
It cost the city about $9.1 million to assemble the land, buy several buildings and compensate owners for the loss of their businesses.
Public consultations will run until Aug. 3, and then the developer, architect and the city's selection committee will refine the design before coming back to city council this fall for final approval.
Rick Haldenby, the director of the University of Waterloo's school of architecture sits on the committee that will make a final recommendation to the city this fall on whether to proceed with the development.
"I think it's a pretty successful and intelligent-looking project," Haldenby said of the proposed design.
Both the developer and the architects have already demonstrated they are willing to incorporate suggested changes to their design, Haldenby said.
"It's an urban block, and I've thought all along the right way to handle it is to build out to the streets and create a space in the middle of the block,"
The two condo towers have features that reference the award-winning design at the City Hall on the next block.
"The towers are articulated forms, they are not just blobs or rectangular blocks, and they have a kind of conversation with the City Hall, which I think is quite thoughtful and clever,"
Les Klein is one of the principals at Quadrangle Architects.
"It's a solid approach to all the things the city has set out as principles, and that we heartily endorse -- the notion of creating streets that are pedestrian friendly, supporting the fabric, vocabulary and life along King Street
," Klein said.
Klein said everyone the team spoke to believes the time has come for a boutique hotel in the old Mayfair building.
Klein said there will be 250 parking spaces for the public on the first level of the underground garage.
The two floors below that will have 500 parking spaces for the condo owners.
"I think, for us, the most important thing is the citizens of Kitchener feel it is their project as well," Klein said.
"Its success is dependent on the people of Kitchener embracing not only the commercial value, but the civic value we are hoping to inculcate in this project," Klein said.
Glenn Woolner is a Kitchener resident with a long-standing interest in the redevelopment of Centre Block, and the intensification of the downtown.
"I think my first impressions are very positive," Woolner said.
Thomas Seebohm, who teaches at the University of Waterloo school of architecture, was equally impressed with what he saw last evening.
"I like the fact the tall buildings are not just boxes, but they have style,"
"Overall, I'm quite impressed with how it's going to look and how it's going to work," Seebohm said.
In the centre of the block, a courtyard-park with a water feature will be built. Pedestrians will get into this through a grand staircase and gallery off King Street.
Off of Young Street, there will be a covered staircase leading into the courtyard, and from Duke Street, people will be able to walk through a short tunnel into the heart of the development.
"It will be an asset for the people living there, and as an oasis in the city," Seebohm said.
If yesterday's reaction to the model is any indication there will be little or no opposition among city councillors when a vote is held in a few months.
The block is located in Coun. John Smola's ward.
"It's exactly what we need in the downtown, that's what we are trying to do -- get more residential," Smola said.
"What I've seen so far is exactly what the whole plan for the downtown is about," Smola said.
Added Coun. Kelly Galloway: "I think the new proposal for Centre Block is great. I think it incorporates a lot of wonderful aspects that will improve the downtown."
Galloway particularly likes the rooftop gardens that will go on some of the buildings.
John MacDonald is a local architect who listened carefully to the developer's presentation to city council after studying the model.
"I'm a little disappointed at the scale of the retail associated with it, there is only about 7,000 square feet of retail," MacDonald said.
MacDonald was one of the few wondering about the financing behind the development.
The city has already spent $9.1 million on the project. It spent more to demolish the historic Forsyth factory and build a parking lot in its place.
Earlier, the city was going to transfer ownership of the land and buildings to a developer who agreed to build an underground-parking garage on the site with some public spots.
At this point, it's not known if the city will transfer ownership of the land in exchange for the parking spots, or if city council will buy or lease the spaces.
"My understanding is it may not be clear at this point what the financial deal is," MacDonald said.
"What exactly is the deal here?" MacDonald said.
"We want to get public opinion at this point, but do we have all the information?" MacDonald said.
After listening to the developer's presentation Coun. John Gazzola had finances on his mind as well.
Gazzola wanted to know if the details of the financing would be made public during the public consultations.
Rod Reiger, the city's director of economic development, said negotiations between the developer and city will be held in August to reach an agreement on the financials.
"We will be bringing that information to council in the fall," Reiger said.