City Within the City

National Post

In 1996, Concord Adex began negotiations to purchase 18 hectares of land just west of the SkyDome, and the spending began. There were planning and rezoning costs. Then, millions of dollars in annual property taxes kicked in in 1997 when the purchase of the former railway lands from Canada Lands Corp. was finalized. The marketing department was the next in line for money to promote the condominium community – CityPlace. Employees and insurance bills also had to be paid.

Six years and millions of dollars later, the company has a cash flow. In March, the first resident is expected to move into the first tower of CityPlace, one of the Matrix towers.

"We write a lot of cheques – my wrist is going wobbly," says Henry Man, Chief Operating Officer of Concord Adex Developments Corp. "Not many people have the vision, longevity and the ability to hold on to a property like this."

Vision and staying power are what Concord Adex and its parent company, Concord Pacific, are all about. Concord Pacific first made a splash when it purchased 83 hectares of Vancouver's False Creek waterfront in 1987, to create a gargantuan residential development on the Expo 86 site. It was three years and 200 public hearings before sales would begin for Concord Pacific Place. Concord Adex is 55% publicly held and 45% owned by private shareholders. The shareholders bring extensive business experience from around the world to the table. The largest private shareholder is Li Ka-Shing, a Hong Kong billionaire and one of the world's most prominent business tycoons.

The company's strategy is to find large downtown properties in prime locations near the water, then create a master plan for a dynamic and organized community. The location of parks, homes, recreational facilities and retail outlets is meticulously planned. From an architectural standpoint, the buildings must "speak to each other," Mr. Man says.

While shareholders expect long-term financial rewards to be big, monetary gain is only part of their motivation to build these mega-neighbourhoods, says Mr. Man, who maintains a condominium on Toronto's waterfront as well as a family home in Vancouver.

"It gives me a lot of satisfaction," he says. "It obviously is not all money. If I could make more money somewhere else, would I be able to come back in 10 years with my children and tell them, "Your father played a heavy hand in making this happen?" To remember why I placed the building in that location, why I turned it this way? How often do you get that? It is quite satisfying."

The sales people at the Toronto development feel the same way. Since CityPlace opened two years ago, about 2,500 homes have been sold, which works out to approximately three sales a day, says Mark Cohen, vice-president of sales and marketing for Concord Adex.

However, there is still a long way to go. Toronto's $2-billion CityPlace development will be under construction for the next 10 years. It is expected to be home to some 12,000 residents in 6,000 condos in 20 towers and some low-rise townhouses. It is bounded by the SkyDome to the east, Bathurst Street to the west, Front Street to the north and Lake Shore Boulevard and Harbourfront to the south.

Parks and pedestrian bridges coupled with wide sidewalks ensure CityPlace residents will be able to easily walk from home to Harbourfront, SkyDome and the financial district. Nearly half the site has been dedicated to public amenities, including a three-hectare park west of Spadina Avenue. There will be bicycle paths, jogging trails and open spaces throughout the neighbourhood. A nine-hole golf course and year-round driving range is on the site now. CityPlace will boast a state-of-the-art fibre-optic backbone throughout its buildings, powered by Telus Corp., who has committed to a $30-million telecommunications infrastructure investment.

Harbour View Estates, which features four towers and a seven-storey loft building is on the market. It features a 30,000-sq. ft. health club for residents, which will have a full-sized basketball court, indoor pool, tennis court, billiard tables, indoor running track, indoor bowling lanes, squash court and golf simulator. Mr. Cohen says Phase 1 – a 40-storey tower with 416 suites and the loft building with 101 suites – is substantially sold.

Phase 2, a 49-storey tower with panoramic views, goes on sale today. Prices start at $149,900 for a 649-sq. ft. suite with one bedroom plus a den. A three-bedroom penthouse suite with a den, selling for $968,000, is 2218 sq. ft. The model suite has two bedrooms plus a den and sells for $264,800.

Mr. Man is optimistic the rapid pace of sales will continue, due partly to the recent revitalization of downtown's west side. New businesses have opened in the area and, as residents begin to move in, there will be more patrons. This whole area of the city will start jumping, he says.

CityPlace has gone better than expected and Mr. Man is thrilled to see Concord Adex's super-sized dream becoming reality.

"It takes vision and guts to take on a property like this. However, it comes with the commensurate risk and reward."