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First Glimpse at Soap Factory Building Remake in East Harbour

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It has been five long months since we last reported on First Gulf‘s transformative East Harbour development, and the design team has since been busy advancing plans for Toronto’s new ‘Downtown East’, presenting their most recent proposal to Toronto’s Design Review Panel last week. The massive new employment district on the site of the former Unilever soap factory proposes to add 50,000 new jobs, complete with expansive new retail, night life, and cultural venues. The rezoning application for the master plan received City Council’s approval back in June, and work is now being done trying to define the character of the neighbourhood, with some preliminary images of what that might just look like.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Since the master plan was approved, First Gulf has added heavyweight firms KPMB Architects and Copenhagen-based Henning Larsen Architects to their design team. KPMB is charged with taking on some of the conceptual architectural design as the master plan moves into more detailed refinement, while Henning Larsen has been brought on as an ideas-generator, bringing a fresh perspective to help define the broader character of the area. The two firms join Adamson Associates, Urban Strategies, and Janet Rosenberg Studio on the design team.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoSummary of master plan approved by City Council in June, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The efforts of the designers have been focused on Phase 1 of the project, more specifically the adaptive reuse of the existing soap factory and the surrounding public spaces. The proponent team sees the soap factory as the single most important character-defining element in the district around which the rest of the neighbourhood will develop.

Two small, but very significant adjustments to the master plan by Henning Larsen help to reinforce the industrial character of the district. First, it was decided to preserve rather than demolish the existing Glycerin Building and Boiler House – the two smaller industrial buildings located just east of the soap factory – which will form the northern border of the new Soap Factory Plaza.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoDiagram showing adjustments to the master plan, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The repurposing of these two smaller buildings, together with the soap factory, serve to create a distinct character around the plaza that preserves its history and creates unique spaces within the development, much like how the industrial nature of the Distillery District and Evergreen Brickworks have been preserved through their built form.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of Soap Factory Plaza, image courtesy of First Gulf.

As a result of the preservation of the Glycerin Building and Boiler House, the tallest proposed tower to the east of the soap factory was shifted northward and pushed up against the transit station to accommodate. This creates a ‘gateway’ moment when approaching the site, with the tallest tower marking the transit hub and the soap factory highly visible along the riverfront, creating an instant snapshot of the character of the neighbourhood.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoDiagram showing view toward East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

With regards to the soap factory, KPMB is proposing to retain the building in situ, while adding an additional 12 storeys floating above the structure in two shifted rectangular volumes. The extra 12 storeys will be supported by either a concrete waffle slab or a two-storey steel truss hovering above the existing soap factory building, with minimal adjustments to its structure and interior layout.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The Unilever soap factory, along with its two adjacent smaller structures, is not designated as a heritage building. However, the design team recognizes the unique quality of its cavernous interior spaces and their attractiveness for new commercial units, and KPMB’s main goal is preserving this unique atmosphere.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoPhotograph of the interior of the soap factory, image courtesy of First Gulf.

In a move that can be loosely described as reverse façadism, the bulky concrete structure of the soap factory will be retained, while the exterior envelope of the building will be replaced with an identical facade in order to increase its thermal performance.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

The staggering of the stacked volumes was done to mitigate the effects of wind around the building, to minimize the building’s shadow impact, and to create attractive rooftop spaces looking west toward downtown. The architecture of the soap factory addition is only conceptual, as it is still in the very early stages of the design, but it is clear that the intention is to differentiate the upper volumes from the existing building with a more contemporary look.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panel members were overall impressed and very pleased with the progress of the master plan, calling it a “fabulous project” and even exclaiming that it made them “so damn happy”.

The Panel was unanimously in agreement that the preservation of the Glycerin Building and Boiler House was an excellent move that added a lot of character to the proposal. They also strongly supported the approach to the repurposing of the soap factory, with unanimous approval of the preservation of the existing spatial qualities and the minimal intervention approach of hovering the new addition over top.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoView looking west toward the preserved buildings, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panelists also responded positively to the focus on public space, but offered some suggestions to better enhance the spaces between the buildings. Commenting on the master plan, Panel members emphasized the importance of Broadview Avenue as the spine of the district, and encouraged the design team not to disregard the significance of the street. Some suggested that rather than having Soap Factory Plaza as the focal point, Broadview should be the central public space, with a well-executed street design. As well, they cautioned not to eliminate all of the proposed open space around the transit hub, which has now been greatly diminished since the tallest tower has been shifted northward to accommodate the retained industrial buildings.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of Soap Factory Plaza looking from Broadview Avenue, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Panel members also reiterated the importance of connections to the surroundings, a comment which they have often repeated at each review of the proposal. The Panel stressed that connecting the site to the Don River is integral to the success of the project, and that the design team needs to find a better way to integrate the greenery of the riverside park and flood protection embankments with the adjacent buildings and open plazas.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the ground floor plane of the soap factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

As well, access to the site was a concern for some Panel members, who emphasized the need for an additional pedestrian and cyclist bridge across the Don, perhaps connecting to Corktown Common. Currently, the City is proposing that the existing rail bridge be beefed up with pedestrian and cyclist pathways on both the north and south sides connecting directly to the transit hub, and it has remained steadfast that this will be sufficient. Panelists have repeatedly encouraged that additional pedestrian access to the district be provided, but this has yet to materialize.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building and East Harbour, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Finally, the Panel encouraged the design team to think about the future of employment in designing the district. Since this project is still many years away before being fully realized, they emphasized that the master plan and the buildings need to be adaptable to changing workplaces and suitable for jobs that may not even exist yet. They stressed the importance of being forward-thinking in the design of the district.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoRendering of the Soap Factory building, image courtesy of First Gulf.

Overall, the Panel was pleased with what they saw and encouraged the design team to continue on their current path.

Though things are coming together for the East Harbour, it is still a long way off from being realized. It was stated that First Gulf is aiming for a 2023-2024 date for the first phase of the project, and it should also be underscored that this entire development is fully dependent on the necessary infrastructure being in place – namely the transit hub and the Broadview Avenue extension. When asked, the City said there is no official date for delivery of this infrastructure, but that they are working closely with the developer to ideally get everything in place for 2023-2024.

East Harbour, First Gulf, KPMB, Henning Larsen, Urban Strategies, TorontoArial photograph of the Unilever site looking north, image courtesy of First Gulf.

We will keep you updated as the East Harbour plan continues to evolve, but in the meantime, you can tell us what you think by checking out the associated Forum thread, or by leaving a comment in the space provided on this page.

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Couple from Toronto buys dream home in Mushaboom

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MUSHABOOM – A couple who lived and raised a family in downtown Toronto developed a five-year plan in 2015 to purchase their dream home.

In September they moved into the home – located on Malagash Island in Mushaboom on Nova Scotia’s stunning Eastern Shore – that met and exceeded their best dreams for their retirement.

The Camerons, Bruce and Tanya, decided in 2019 they would explore the Maritimes to see what real estate was available to become their potential retirement home. In the spring of 2020, during a global pandemic, the real estate boom hit their city, and they were hearing the same for Nova Scotia. Our province was their first-choice for attaining their desire for an entirely different lifestyle – away from the busyness of the city.

“We had $300,000 to $350,000 as a home value in mind to buy. Our semi-detached located off Danforth in Toronto was priced at $850,000. We wanted to come out ahead, so we would be secure in retirement,” Tanya said.

Their century-old home had prime location near the subway and GO Transit Line for a great 13-minute commute downtown.

“We enjoyed our community,” explains Bruce “… we had great neighbours, young children around and street parties – lots of social activity.”

Bruce says, “Our agent suggested a starting quote of $899,000. We did not do any renovations and only some staging. Fifty couples went through and we received four significant offers. Six days later we sold – with zero conditions – and a price of over a million dollars. We just requested a closing of September 2020 to get the kids off to school – which we got.”

The couple got more than they had anticipated.

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Rabobank Announces Leadership Changes in U.S., Canadian Offices

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NEW YORK, Dec. 16, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Rabobank, the leading global food and agribusiness bank, has appointed two of its top executives, Tamira Treffers-Herrera and Robert Sinescu, to become Co-Heads of North American Client Coverage, positioning the Bank for future growth in the region.

Treffers-Herrera has also assumed the role of Vice Chairperson and Head of the Atlanta office, where she additionally oversees Rabobank Mexico, which is led by Eduardo Palacios. Sinescu is the Head of the Chicago office, and also oversees Rabobank Canada, led by Marc Drouin, who was recently appointed as Canada’s General Manager.

Treffers-Herrera and Sinescu report to David Bassett, Head of Wholesale Banking North America, the Bank’s corporate and investment banking business for the region based in New York.

“Both Tamira and Robert have a demonstrated history of strong leadership, operational excellence and passion for our clients,” Bassett said. “Their broad experience and deep sector expertise will be invaluable in delivering dynamic results for clients while accelerating our growth trajectory in North America.”

Each office will have an even greater focus on key Food & Agribusiness sectors and clients: The Chicago office will drive growth in sectors including Dairy, Farm Inputs and Grains & Oilseeds, which are also key areas of focus for the Canada office. The Atlanta office will focus heavily on sectors such as Animal Protein, Beverages, Sugar, and Supply Chains, which are important sectors in Mexico as well.

“Rabobank is fully committed to our clients throughout North America, and we believe our new sector-focused coverage will improve our ability to provide knowledge-based, value-added solutions that benefit our clients,” Bassett said.

Treffers-Herrera was most recently based in London as CEO of Rabobank’s European Region from 2016-2020, where she took the organization through Brexit. Prior to that, she worked in the Atlanta office from 2002-2016. During her tenure in Atlanta, Treffers-Herrera served as Global Sector Head – Consumer Food & Beverages, and prior to that she was a senior banker for a portfolio of large beverage and consumer foods clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Kentucky, a Master of Arts from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and has studied at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Harvard Business School.

Sinescu has been with Rabobank for over 21 years and was previously General Manager of Rabobank Canada, where he oversaw all operations, business development, commercial strategy and relationships with regulators. In addition, he continues to serve as CEO of Rabo Securities Canada Inc. Prior to Canada, he was a senior banker, Head of Corporate Banking, European Sector Head for Sugar, and a member of the Management Team for Rabobank France. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business from the Bucharest School of Business, a Master of Business Administration & Management and a Master of Science in Banking and Corporate Finance from Sorbonne University in Paris, and has studied at Brown University.

Drouin has worked with Rabobank’s Canadian team for more than nine years and most recently served as a senior banker, Head of Rabobank Canada’s AgVendor Program and a member of Rabobank Canada’s Management Team. He brings extensive wholesale banking experience within the Dairy, G&O, CPG and Supply Chain sectors. Drouin holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill University and a Master of Business Administration in International Finance, Marketing and Management from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

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Greybrook Realty Partners & Marlin Spring Brand Jointly Owned Asset Manager – Greyspring Apartments

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TORONTO, Dec. 14, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Greybrook Realty Partners and Marlin Spring are pleased to announce the new branding of their jointly owned investment and asset management firm, Greyspring Apartments. With a portfolio of more than 2,000 units and CAD$375 million in assets under management, Greyspring Apartments is focused on the acquisition and repositioning of multi-family assets throughout Canada.

The new name and branding is an important step in Greyspring’s evolution as an independent operating business. Formed in 2018 by long standing-partners Marlin Spring and Greybrook Realty Partners, Greyspring Apartments was established with the goal of building a leading asset management firm with a robust portfolio of residential rental real estate assets in primary and secondary markets across Canada.

Greyspring’s talented team of real estate, asset management and finance professionals is overseen and guided by the Management Board, whose members include Benjamin Bakst, CEO, Marlin Spring; Elliot Kazarnovksy, CFO, Marlin Spring; Sasha Cucuz, CEO, Greybrook Securities Inc.; Peter Politis, CEO, Greybrook Realty Partners; Chris Salapoutis, President & COO, Greybrook Realty Partners; Ashi Mathur, President, Marlin Spring; and Karl Brady. In addition to his role on the Management Board, Karl Brady leads Greyspring Apartments as its President. 

“We are pleased to announce the official name and branding of a business we formed with our partners at Marlin Spring a few years ago,” said Peter Politis, CEO, Greybrook Realty Partners. “Greyspring has been diligently focused on the execution of strategic value-add programs across its portfolio that are improving the quality of housing for tenants and overall asset values. For Greybrook investors, expanding from our core business in real estate development to the value-add space through Greyspring, has allowed us to provide our clients with investment opportunities that diversify their real estate investment portfolios.”

“Marlin Spring and Greybrook have partnered on many residential real estate projects in recent years,” said Benjamin Bakst, CEO and Cofounder, Marlin Spring. “To a great extent, Greyspring illustrates our approach to partnerships. We believe in, and strive for, responsible growth through deepening our relationships with our trusted partners. With Greyspring, we’ve formalized our focus on providing better and more affordable living experiences for Canadians. This vision aligns with our mission to deliver exceptional real estate value to all our stakeholders with an uncompromising adherence to our core values.”

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