A Game Changer

Have you heard of The Well? Well, you should.

The Well is a new master planned mixed-use community coming to the heart of downtown Toronto just south of King Street West. The 7.5 acre development is to border Wellington, Spadina and Front Streets. As “a place to live, shop, work and play well” the new community will benefit our well-established neighbourhood.

This project has three components that excites me as a neighbour.

thewell

RETAIL

Firstly, retail. The developer trio (Diamond Corp, Allied REIT and RioCan) claim that it will “elevate the shopping scene” in Toronto. I certainly hope so. I think retail is significantly lacking in our neighbourhood. Coffee shops and restaurants we have in abundance. In fact, a bit too much that the City of Toronto started to limit the number of new restaurant/bars/clubs in our district in favour of more retail. Perhaps that’s why we see Indochino now. But the City canned that idea quickly and we have more and more new eateries coming our way living up to the entertainment part of our district’s nickname, but not the fashion part (stay tuned for my Rumour Has It post).

A few more food markets in and around the neighbourhood wouldn’t hurt. Lead retail developer Rio-Can stated that there would be a high-end grocery store at grade at the main Front/Spadina office tower. A high-end grocery store…perhaps Whole Foods, McEwan’s or Pusateri’s? I wholeheartedly welcome a Whole Foods Market to the neighbourhood. Fingers crossed.

What I would really like to see, however, is the kind of unique boutiques along West Queen West – recently voted as the 2nd coolest neighbourhood in the world by Vogue. Proceeding west from Spadina throughout the development are to be an array of shops lining the mid-blocked pedestrian lanes.

the well pedestrian retail

PUBLIC SPACE

Secondly, public space. This plan seems to be making use of the characteristic lane ways (currently forgotten, abused or underused), improving connectivity and increasing public space. The Well’s site has a rendering of bridge balustrades that reminds me of Butler’s Wharf and the Borough of Southwark in London. The lane ways will be reclaimed, shelter pedestrians from the elements by vaulted glass canopies and made more interesting with artwork. I have faith in this aspect of the project because Claude Cormier & Associes is the landscape architect. Cormier is one of Canada’s best and though a Montreal-based firm has made a positive mark on the public spaces in this city through projects such as Sugar Beach. With this project he will join 2 of our neighbourhood’s precious parks according to the original plan, which has Clarence Square and Victoria Square connected with greenery along Wellington Street. The team is also strong with Hariri Pontarini Architects (architects for the overall site) whose office is in the neighbourhood near King and Portland.

the well site plan

the well google earth

RESIDENTIAL OPTIONS

Thirdly, residential options. “A vibrant community is well-mixed.” They are absolutely right. Just as mixed-use is an essential component in vibrant urban development, so is co-existence of different lifestyles. The development is marketed as having residences suitable to all ages, from single to retired, and for growing families. The demographic of the neighbourhood has undoubtedly changed during the last decade and has become much younger with the average household size of between 1 – 2.

the well canopy

Currently this area is home to small offices, the old Globe & Mail headquarters (moving east to The Globe & Mail Centre designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects), a small number of restaurants and parking lots. If the plan for this development is executed thoughtfully it will be a game changer for the community making it more vibrant and varied (not to mention what that will do to the value of our property).

The larger issue is how it will impact the vehicular traffic in the area. The 504 streetcar is the busiest in Toronto and not getting any faster. The massive Mirvish-Gehry towers seem to be going ahead without some of the infrastructure we need to sustain it. I certainly don’t want to witness the madening traffic gridlock our neighbours in Liberty Village have throughout the work week. I think Friday and Saturday nights are enough for the heart of King Street West already. Then again this has been the key issue for our city for a long time. No matter how many new buildings we put up to densify the core, without a superior and extensive public transit system, Toronto will never truly be a world class city.

The 3,000 square foot sales and marketing centre for The Well will open in June 2015 and will be located at 460 King Street West at the north-west corner of Spadina in the old Global Village Backpackers hostel that Allied REIT acquired for $15 million last year.

What do you think of The Well?

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