By: Monika Rau, Dream
On February 2, 2017, 35 ULI members came together for the final ever group tour of Honest Ed’s, Toronto’s iconic discount department store. The site of the popular store was put up for sale on July 16, 2013, and the store closed its doors in December 2016, after 68 years in business. Now, Westbank Projects Corp., the new owner of the 4.5-acre site, has something fresh in store: inspired by Ed Mirvish himself, the site is to be redeveloped as part of a revitalization project for the former Honest Ed’s site.
Markham House City Building Lab: Presentation
In September 2015, Westbank opened Markham House, a city-building lab and community hub for people to share creative ideas on the proposed Mirvish Village and the exiting of Honest Ed’s. Walking into the Markham House, one feels an instant connection to the history of the neighbourhood and pride for the proposed future Mirvish Village. Westbank used this hub to engage with the community for over two years, carefully taking the local community and area character into account when establishing their vision for the site. Information is always available at the house, including brochures, wallboards and a built model of the future development. From time to time, Markham House also features installations and hosts public consultations comprising workshops, walkshops, design review panels, open houses, and frequent events, none of which are formally required by the City’s Planning Department.
Since 2014, Westbank has dedicated these consultations to local residents and Torontonians to collect their feedback and share collective thoughts on the development proposal. On the chilly evening of the Members Only Tour, ULI members were greeted by snacks and drinks as they eagerly came to listen to Westbank Development Manager Jonah Letovsky speak about the status of the development application for Mirvish Village.
Mirvish Village Project Details
Letovsky explained that, following constant community feedback and tweaking, the third development submission to the City (submitted January 16, 2017) included a complete purpose-built community of 804 rental apartments, green space, and innovative retail. A major component of the proposed Mirvish Village is new concept retail: in concert with the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) and The Next Practice, the creative Toronto-based ThinkFresh Group hosted a design charrette in early 2016 to determine the best design strategy for the Honest Ed’s Alley and to enhance the site’s walkability. Through vendor and customer feedback, it was evident that a micro-retail incubator space would be the best fit.
Compared to the first development application submitted in 2015, the most recent submission had decreased the height and density of the proposed development by 10%. A final planning staff report from the City is anticipated this spring while demolition of the site is expected to commence in April or May of this year. The project will likely break ground in the summer of 2017 and completion is anticipated by the end of 2020.
Honest Ed’s Department Store: Walking Tour
The walking portion of the ULI tour began on Markham Street, where the group discussed the current and future public realm, traffic expectations, public spaces, and heritage retention (23 heritage buildings are being retained). Markham Street alone has a rich history: starting off as a residential street, it transformed from boarding houses and small businesses to an artist colony, initiated by Ann Mirvish’s first artist studio inside the Victory Café.
The group approached Honest Ed’s from a parking lot on Lennox Street, behind the multicultural bookstore “Different Booklist,” which commemorates African and Caribbean journalism and honours Contrast newspaper, where many of Toronto’s top Black journalists learned their craft. Continuing down the street, ULI members arrived at Honest Ed’s alley, an important landmark that will be kept intact as part of Mirvish Village and where a proposed public market will be incorporated, connecting Bathurst to Markham Street.
While entering Honest Ed’s was a familiar feeling, it was also eerie to walk by empty shelves and offices while trying to picture what the site will become. The group reminisced about the landmark department store and discount retail, but it was also evident that everyone is looking forward to the new life that will take shape on this site.
The presentation and walking tour provided a very comprehensive review of the neighbourhood and proposed future development of the Honest Ed’s site. Westbank shared that Mirvish Village will incorporate purpose-built rental, public space, and micro-retail as per community feedback and in keeping with the context of the area. We will no doubt continue to watch the progression of this development proposal.