Front Page- New in Homes & Condos- Regent Park is Making New Waves

TORONTO, February 15, 2014 – The Daniels Corporation’s transformation of a struggling, social housing community is winning awards, setting precedents.
Daniels Corp.’s transformation of a struggling, social housing community is winning awards, setting precedents
Developer Martin Blake never imagined Daniels Corp.’s revitalization of Regent Park would go as well as it has.
“Back in the beginning it would have been impossible, even for us, to understand how successful this was going to be,” says Blake, a vice-president with Daniels, the builder that’s partnered with Toronto Community Housing Corp. to carry out one of the largest urban redevelopments in Canadian history.
“It’s been a massive challenge.”
Since putting the first shovel in the ground in late 2006, Daniels’ $1.75 billion undertaking is transforming a struggling post-war, social housing community into a model of urban renewal, a mixed-use, mixed-income neighbourhood. It has earned accolades and won design, renewal and environmental awards, and set a precedent for future Toronto redevelopments in areas like Alexandra Park and Lawrence Heights.
The Regent Park revitalization — nearly midway through its five-phase, 15- to 20-year masterplan — comprises a 69-acre swath that stretches from Parliament St. east to River St., and from Gerrard St. south to Shuter St.
Over the past seven years, the builder has razed half of the old Regent Park community and built 530 new replacement social housing units plus 1,581 new market-rate condos and townhomes (5,000 when construction is complete). Proceeds from the condo/townhome sales are helping to pay for new TCHC-subsidized, replacement rental apartments for families temporarily relocated during reconstruction. On top of the replacement rental units, hundreds of additional affordable rental units are being built, along with new street infrastructure, parks and community amenities.
To date, four condo buildings have been completed: One Cole, One Park West, Paintbox and One Park Place North. A fifth tower, One Park Place South, goes on sale in May and construction is already underway. An additional three midrise condos will be built in Phase 3, making for a total of 1,820 homes that have attracted buyers ranging from first-timers to downsizers.
The new Regent Park is shaking its old stigma, Blake insists, and fast becoming a “magnet for people who want to be where great things are happening.”
Revitalization has brought an abundance of community amenities to Regent Park, now one of the city’s most well-endowed areas for recreational facilities.
There’s Regent Park Aquatic Centre, with three pools, glass walls and cedar-paneled roof. “It’s birthday-party central for kids,” Blake says, noting the centre had 4,000 weekly visitors last summer. The aquatic centre sits adjacent to a six-acre park, which when it opens in June will boast a bake oven, greenhouse, gardening plots, splash pad and off-leash dog area.
Across the road is Daniels Spectrum, a 60,000-square-foot arts and cultural centre. Opened in 2012, Spectrum, managed by Artscape, has become the hub of Regent Park. The facility includes theatre space and studios, and houses organizations such as Regent Park School of Music, Regent Park Film Festival, Collective of Black Artists and Centre for Social Innovation, plus 60 workspaces for non-profit groups and arts entrepreneurs.
“It’s a meeting place for old Regent Park residents, new residents and people from Toronto and across the world,” says Seema Jethalal, Spectrum’s managing director, adding the facility had more than 200 events in its inaugural year.
Spectrum promotes art as a tool for social change, particularly among youth. “We run a slew of mentorship programs, and everyone on my team is mentoring young people in some respect. And Artscape and tenant organizations have developed programs to respond to all the talent, diversity and creativity in this neighbourhood,” Jethalal says.
South on Shuter, a 60,000-square-foot community centre, set to open in 2016, will have a gym, running track, climbing wall, computer lab, dance studio and daycare centre.
Regent Park will be connected via urban mews, a pedestrian-friendly street that will represent the spine of the community and serve as a green gathering spot for events like outdoor movie screenings and farmers markets. “It’s going to be the centre of activity,” says Heela Omarkhail, a Daniels manager who oversees community partnerships.
Phase 3 of the revitalization, scheduled to begin in late April, will include construction of the Regent Park Athletics Grounds. Funded through a partnership of TCHC, Daniels and Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment’s Team Up Foundation, the facility will have a soccer field that converts to a cricket pitch, a basketball court and refurbished ice rink.
“It will be a destination for kids after school,” says Blake. “And that’s what we want: for kids to be out having fun and getting involved in programs that help them improve their skills.”
The last decade has witnessed the remarkable metamorphosis of a community that was once one of the city’s most underprivileged.
Designed in accordance with late 19th-century “garden city” planning principles, the original Regent Park — built in place of the old Cabbagetown community, which was demolished — consisted entirely of social housing, with no commercial space or market-rate real estate.
The neighbourhood’s original street-grid was removed, and most of the housing blocks faced inward, away from the streets. “The idea was that you’re giving kids a safe place to play, because there were no streets so no one’s driving through,” Blake explains.
“But when you have that concentration of housing in an area and you remove the streets, you remove all the business and opportunities that go with them. So there was an economic moat surrounding Regent Park.”
Through the years the low-income community became run-down and crime-ridden. By the mid-2000s the City of Toronto decided the time had come for a new beginning.
Daniels was selected to execute the Regent Park revitalization, an ambitious plan that called for most of the community to be torn down and rebuilt, including reconstruction of the original street grid. “By restoring the grid we restored the community connections,” Blake says.
And strengthening community connections was a priority from the start.
“We realized success wouldn’t come from only a developer taking the initiative here,” says Blake. “It would need to come from the developer, TCHC and the community working together. We couldn’t be successful without buy-in from the people who live here.”
It was the people of Regent Park, he stresses, who brought the bulk of ideas. “If you go back to the beginning, which was roughly 1995, it was the community that was asking for this revitalization, saying we need to do something and we want to do something.
“A lot of people would have looked at it and said let’s rename it something else, like Cabbagetown South. But we said this is Regent Park — it has pride, history and an opportunity to become a real destination,” Blake says.
Despite pushing for change, residents had real misgivings about being relocated during construction, fearing they wouldn’t be able to get back. “There was a lot of uncertainty there,” Blake acknowledges.
TCHC stepped up and guaranteed them the right to return, and about 80 per cent of tenants relocated in the first two phases have moved back.
Omarkhail notes that Daniels has partnered with Dixon Hall, a local social service agency, to train nine carpentry apprentices and help them find employment (three are working on local construction projects.) She also points to UforChange, a Regent Park-based arts and life-skills program that assists new Canadians and low-income youth to launch their careers. “These groups are finding each other and connecting with each other all because they’re now located within the same community,” she says.
Commercial space has proved to be one of the most essential elements of the Regent Park revitalization.
Phase 1 saw the arrival of FreshCo by Sobeys, Tim Hortons, RBC and Rogers. The second phase has brought the opening of Paintbox Bistro — Regent Park’s first restaurant — and the Toronto Birth Centre, the first provincially funded facility run by midwives. Both Paintbox and One Park Place buildings have office space above street-level retail. April’s Phase 3 will add more storefronts along Dundas St., ultimately creating a high street running from Parliament to River.
According to Omarkhail, 660 area residents are employed in retail, construction and by community partners such as Artscape as a direct result of the revitalization.
While Blake campaign during the first reconstruction for retailers to “think about Regent Park as a destination and embrace it,” today the area is its own draw. “We don’t have to go and ask anymore. They’ve been coming to us and asking about opportunities.”
There is still reluctance from other builders to follow Daniels’ lead and venture east of Sherbourne St. Blake sees this changing, too, particularly with development in the West Don Lands and Distillery District adding to the momentum of the Regent Park revitalization.
“You’re going to start to have more development happening in the Downtown East over the next decade,” he predicts. “Because why wouldn’t (other builders) want to be connected to all this?
“Any of the urban developers who have seen the success Daniels has had at Regent Park would be crazy to ignore the changes happening in Downtown East.”
New in Regent Park
1. One Cole: 1 Cole St.
2. One Park West: 260 Sackville St.
3. Paintbox: 225 Sackville St.,
4. One Park Place North: 170 Sumach St.
5. One Park Place South: 55 Regent Park Blvd.
6. Regent Park Aquatic Centre: 640 Dundas St E. (north side)
7. Daniels Spectrum: 585 Dundas St E. (south side)
8. Six-acre park, beside aquatic centre.
9. New community centre, to be attached to Nelson Mandela Park Public School
10. Urban mews: Connecting six-acre park to community centre.
11. Regent Park Athletics Grounds: Sumach and Shuter Sts.
12. FreshCo by Sobeys, northeast corner Dundas/Parliament
13. Tim Hortons
14. RBC
15. Rogers
16. Paintbox Bistro: 555 Dundas St. E.
17. Toronto Birth Centre: 525 Dundas St. E.

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