By Christine Chea, Graywood Developments
This past May, ULI Toronto had the honour of hosting this year’s Young Leader’s Exchange where the ULI Connect Committee (formerly known as the Young Leader Committee) welcomed Young Leaders (ULI members under the age of 35) from across North America to see for themselves what this city has to offer. Over the course of three days, ULI Toronto played host to ULI members from cities such as Philadelphia, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Washington, Tampa, Nashville, and Baltimore.
The Exchange kicked off at Stikeman Elliott’s offices in the heart of Toronto’s Financial District. Views from the boardroom allowed Young Leaders to see the west end of downtown Toronto all the way to Mississauga in the distance. After opening remarks from ULI Connect Co-chair, Christine Chea, and presentations from ULI Toronto Chair Derek Goring and ULI Outreach Committee Co-Chair Salima Rawji, the Young Leaders walked over to Toronto’s trendy King West neighbourhood where they had dinner at Gusto 101. The group was treated to a delicious dinner and special presentation by Juanita Dickson, President of Gusto 54, the parent company behind Gusto 101 and other popular restaurants such as Trattoria Nervosa, Chubby’s and Felix.
The second day of the exchange started off in Paintbox Bistro in Regent Park, where a team of dedicated city builders, including LoriAnn Girvan (COO, Artscape), Remo Agostino (VP, Development, Daniels Corporation), and Vincent Tong (VP, Development, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, or TCHC), gave a presentation detailing how they came together to establish a true partnership to revitalize one of Canada’s oldest public housing developments.
The Young Leaders then walked over to the Daniels Spectrum building where LoriAnn and Remo provided some history of the building and how they created a space both with and for the diverse communities of Regent Park. As Regent Park is an area filled with people from diverse backgrounds, Remo iterated the value and importance of engaging the community during the creation of a space that met their needs and bringing in organizations who work with, and are run by, members of the area.
The group continued to explore the area, getting a glimpse of some completed buildings, as well as others that were in progress. Along the way, Vincent Tong, Jed Kilbourn (Sr. Development Manager, TCHC) and Mirej Vasic (Associate Development Manager, TCHC) provided ample history regarding their process of consulting with locals, and helping to rebuild and reshape space that catered to their needs, including required infrastructure such as schools, a community centre, a park and accessible roads and transit. The group was then given access to a newly constructed residential building and toured the outdoor patio and garden space before moving inside to see a unit custom built to be fully accessible for people with almost any disability – far beyond the minimal requirements of a standard accessible unit. Vincent, Jed and Mirej answered the group’s many questions regarding procurement of trades to include local talent, construction costs, the consulting process with people with various disabilities to build the space, and the overall efforts of TCHC in the Regent Park revitalization.
On the last leg of the tour, the group was led to the north side of Regent Park to look at the buildings which have not been yet redeveloped and obtain some final historical insights about the way the community has lived for many years, the growth in the neighbourhood, and the replacement promise – where every individual who was displaced from their home for the redevelopment would be guaranteed a new unit upon completion. Members of TCHC and Daniels provided detailed insight on their experience forming partnerships with the community, working with the various local groups and individual community members, and helping to assure that all were consulted and engaged throughout this ongoing redevelopment process.
Later that afternoon, the Young Leaders congregated in Cluny Bistro, a French restaurant in the heart of the historic Distillery District. The interiors were designed by Munge Leung, a Toronto-based interior design firm. The restaurant showcased a beautiful interpretation of traditional design offset by modern elements. While visiting the restaurant, the group was greeted by Jason Lester, Vice Chairman of Development at Dream and Mark Halkias, Senior Property Manager at Dream. Mark provided the group with a graphic presentation full of historic imagery and information about the Distillery District. The Young Leaders learned about the entire history of the site – from its use as the Gooderham and Worts Distillery for whisky production from 1832 to its designation as a National Historic Site in 1976 to the recent and ongoing redevelopment into a lively district with cafes, restaurants and shops housed within repurposed heritage buildings.
From there, tour concluded its time in the Distillery District by spending time in its unique boutiques and sampling some of the gastronomical delights the District has to offer — from a beer tasting at Mill Street Brew Pub, east Toronto’s first commercial micro-brewery in more than 100 years, to a chocolate refining and conching demonstration accompanied by some delectable samples at SOMA Chocolatemaker provided. Finally, the newly opened York Distillery provided some aromatic sips of its products.
The day ended with an evening social at Local, a Lululemon Men’s concept store located in on Ossington Avenue in Toronto’s west end. There, Connect Co-Chairs Ara Mamourian and Christine Chea bartended the event, serving wines from Ontario and tasty beer from Mascot Brewery. Lululemon associates enlightened the Young Leaders, many of whom were familiar with the Canadian brand, on the concept of introducing their line of athletic wear to men by operating a menswear-only store. In addition to a clothing store, Local hosts a wide array of events, from album release after-parties to guided mindful meditations to workout classes.
The brisk weather the next morning didn’t deter any Young Leaders from joining Waterfront Toronto’s Amanda Santo, Director of Development, and Sarah Craig, Development Planner on a walking tour of Toronto’s waterfront. Waterfront Toronto is a corporation backed by all three levels of government which oversees and leads the renewal of the waterfront. The corporation’s strategic direction is led by a board of directors appointed by the government. The tour started in the east end at Sherbourne Common and ended at the Wave Decks in Toronto’s Harbourfront. Amanda recounted the challenges and success of revitalizing Toronto’s waterfront. Their work was cut out for them: create inviting spaces while balancing the needs and desires of the City of Toronto, the Toronto Transit Corporation, residents, stakeholders and private developers in the immediate area.
The Exchange concluded with a lunch at Amsterdam Brewhouse where all the Young Leaders traded contact information and said their goodbyes before some had to rush off the airport.
The Young Leader’s Exchange proved to a be a great success. The Young Leaders discovered what Toronto has to offer and why ULI Toronto as a District Council has suddenly skyrocketed in the North American realm. But, most importantly, the Young Leaders were able to come together to create new cross-border connections.