Galleria Mall is in the dustbin of history

The corner of Dufferin and Dupont is a working class, generally blue collar area not far from the mid-Toronto rail track. The area has always been busy, heavily transited, and Dufferin St. has continuously grown as a major north-south thoroughfare of the city.

The Dufferin bus route is one of the busiest in Toronto and use continues to grow. Two decades ago, houses in the area were extremely affordable and the neighbourhood was a major magnet for new immigrants while also being home to more established Italian, Portuguese, and Anglophone communities. Dufferin-Dupont was served locally by Galleria Mall, a 5 acre patch of retail and shopping locales. Galleria was built in the early 70s, and while regarded with affection by many locals, had a reputation as being run-down and outdated. The mall was a shadow of Dufferin Mall’s scale and shape just south of Bloor. Dufferin-Dupont’s close proximity to the Bloor subway line and the downtown and midtown cores and the Annex have benefited it greatly, and equity in homes in the area has soared, especially in the last 10-12 years. The gentrification of the area has been ongoing for some time, and young professional families have been moving in. But all of that is now intensifying.

Galleria Mall was bought in 2015 by Freed Developments and ELAD Canada, by September, ELAD took over total control of the site. The new owners spent years consulting the community and trudging through the regulatory, zoning, and approvals processes to have an ambitious and bold plan prepared. The derelict mall with considerable parking space will be transformed into a network of eight residential buildings with 3,400 housing units, 150 of which will be ‘affordable’,  considerable retail space and a redesigned and enlarged park space and community recreation centre. The new project will see 3.3 million square feet of space, up from the present 227K square feet. While the already significant congestion in the neighbourhood will only worsen, the project will likely spur further densification and gentrification in the area and will see many jobs and investment poured in. Galleria’s poor reputation and derelict condition at the time of the sale likely netted ELAD and Freed a good sale price. The area was once an aircraft manufacturing plant that was transformed into a car plant and then eventually retail and parking space. Construction of the project will take a decade to complete.

 

Buttonville Airport is going for sale!

Buttonville Airport is a privately owned, public airport just north of Markham. It covers over 170 acres of the primest of prime suburban 905 real estate. The airport is a half hour drive from downtown Toronto and is just east of Highway 404, Buttonville’s strategic proximity to the rapidly growing GTA and the massive growth in air traffic over the last several decades helped transform the site from a ‘grassy strip’ to the largest, most dynamic privately owned airport in the nation. 2018 saw the airport achieve just over 44K aircraft movements, down from over 80K in 2014. In comparison, the large publicly owned Billy Bishop Airport in downtown Toronto has aircraft movements over 125K. In 2009, the family who then owned the airport announced that they wanted to initiate a broad redevelopment of the site into a mixed use commercial, retail, and residential development. This was highlighted as a golden opportunity to unlock tremendous value for a huge tract of strategic real estate. The family sold in 2009, forming a ‘partnership’ with Cadillac, and the price has not been disclosed, but the value of the undeveloped acreage was believed to be worth between $100-150 million at the time.

Cadillac’s plan would have created 10 million square feet of overall multi-use space worth billions. In comparison, the total size of the Yorkdale Mall is just under 1.9 million square feet of retail space. 6-7K new residents would have been accommodated, generating tremendous property tax revenue for the City of Markham. At least a dozen mid and high rise towers were to be constructed. In all likelihood, the ambitious scale of Cadillac’s strategy would have made the airport family billionaires. However, the immense rezoning work required to approve the project was never completed. The deal was shifted off to the Ontario Municipal Board, but negotiations involved too many stakeholders and too much work. Delays kept pushing back the project. The uncertainty and complexity of the project proved too cumbersome for Cadillac and it appears the partnership have now agreed to wash their hands of the property and to put up the holdings for sale.

The sale will create opportunities but also challenges. Significant corporate jet traffic uses the airport and will have little room to transition to as Billy Bishop is limited in its traffic and Pearson is bursting at the seams. The sale will likely up pressure on the federal government and federal transportation regulators to finally and definitively approve construction of Pickering Airport. The GTA is growing to the extent that a second international airport will be necessary, barring that, Pearson will have to be rapidly expanded. Pickering Airport’s construction will intensify development in Durham Region, create many jobs, and spur additional construction, rezoning, and densification. The recently elected Mayor was strongly supportive of airport construction and won election with over 60% of the vote on a pro-build campaign.

 

Thaws, Rebounds and Real Estate Leaders

In our last blog, Tembo expressed optimism and positivity over the latest real estate stats in Toronto. Sales did well in April, and the amount of listings of new homes rose sharply.

 

Analysts were particularly optimistic over the rise in prices, which went up for two consecutive months. This combination of successively positive data suggest a healthy underlying market and the potential for growth and opportunities over the summer. Toronto’s market continues to dominate Canada’s housing sector, with almost as many homes sold in our city as Montreal, Calgary, and Ottawa combined. Positive expectations for increased demand, sales, and higher prices over the next few months are not without merit.

From May 20-23, Toronto will host Collision, one of the pre-eminent technology and AI Conferences in the world. One of the highlights of this Conference has been the focus on the growth and dynamism of tech. job growth in the city. Over the last 5 years Toronto has created more jobs in the tech space than any other urban area in North America, including mighty Silicon Valley. All of these young tech. professionals will need quality housing in the city and the amount of FDI (foreign direct investment) going to tech is expected to grow ever more rapidly in the next few months and years. This will be a big boon to housing. Economic growth in the city is projected to continue growing in real terms (above inflation), and immigration is growing, not slowing. These two macro trends suggest overall demand will continue rising.

On a final note, Toronto’s leadership in the real estate space continues to be cemented internationally. The biggest real estate company in the world is Brookfield Asset Management. It leads all of its peers in sales, amount of assets, and is extremely competitive in terms of the profits it generates. Separately, the volume of condo projects being built in Toronto and the GTA continues to build up. Chinese developers are building major condo towers in Scarborough, Newmarket is seeing its first major condo development in over 30 years, and Peel Region continues to see the ambitious condo projects underway.