Toronto Life | September 28, 2022
When real estate developer Sam Mizrahi first acquired the property at the southwest corner of Bloor and Yonge, he did what he always does at the start of a new development: he walked the streets to talk to people. He wanted to know their thoughts about that corner—what they loved or wanted to improve. This approach to community engagement has always guided Mizrahi’s process, and it’s no different for his latest project, The One. “It’s morally required,” says Mizrahi of the community contributions and considerations that developers make to benefit civic life.
Toronto municipal laws dictate that developers contribute financially to the city through community benefits fees and funds for parklands. But beyond legal obligations and some city-mandated community consultations, how developers think about and accommodate the lives and needs of citizens is largely determined by their own approach.
In 2011, when Mizrahi Developments—then a newcomer to condo development—proposed three boutique midrises in Yorkville on charming Hazelton Avenue, hundreds of residents of the beloved historic neighbourhood came out to town hall meetings to hear about the plans. “There was some skepticism,” recalls Mizrahi. People openly questioned the development. The main takeaway was that locals wanted respect for the history and beauty of their community.
In response, the three Mizrahi midrises, inspired by Haussman architecture in Paris, reshaped the streetscape that had been dotted with ’60s-era storefronts into a cohesive and elegant gateway to the area. Mizrahi Developments also contributed to the design and refurbishment of Ramsden Park. The park is now a popular retreat in busy midtown with an extensive new playground, walking paths and a fenced dog park, along with tennis courts and a skating rink.
The One, which will be the tallest building in Canada, brings another level of responsibility. The landmark intersection of Yonge and Bloor represents the city’s entrepreneurial verve, from its beginnings with 1800s-era brick storefronts to today’s luxury stores. The coveted southwest corner had been the site of high-end Stollery’s clothing store for 114 years, owned then by the Whaley family. Mizrahi met with Ed Whaley, who saw himself as the steward of the Stollery’s legacy. “The Stollery architecture was unique and striking in its time,” says Deborah Scott, assistant to the late Ed Whaley. “Ed and [his business partner] Patricia felt that Sam’s vision for the One would honour the history, the style and the prestige of the Stollery name.”
Over several years, Mizrahi held numerous community town halls, hosting hundreds of local merchants, residents and interested citizens. He established working groups to discuss every aspect of The One’s development, from public transportation, retail and food-and-beverage needs to architectural form.
“Bloor Yorkville is an iconic neighbourhood, merging style, culture, art and wellness. Working with developers ensures alignment on the overall brand ethos for the neighbourhood,” says Briar de Lange, executive director of the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Area.
“Streets and their sidewalks—the main public places of a city—are its most vital organs,” wrote Jane Jacobs, author of the seminal Death and Life of Great American Cities, who lived in Toronto from 1971 until her death in 2006. She underscored the idea that a great city is not just about its buildings, but about the experience of walking past them.
The One’s architects, from Foster + Partners, thought carefully about the impact of the tower on the average pedestrian. They designed widened sidewalks at its base, creating a plaza-like space with trees, public art and benches. “The goal was to establish a still point at the busiest intersection in Canada,” says Giles Robinson, lead architect at Foster + Partners.
Flagship retail stores at The One, as well as the restaurants in the podium, were chosen to enhance the appeal of Bloor Street. The Andaz hotel was selected after an exhaustive worldwide search for a boutique brand that would be new to Toronto and reflect the culture and interests of the city’s midtown.
With The One project, Mizrahi Developments has contributed more than $40 million to a variety of community improvements and parklands. “You’re not just developing a building; you’re helping to develop a city,” says Mizrahi.
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