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Alterra CEO returns to his roots with new condo in Toronto’s transforming Garment District

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As a boy, Robert Cooper would visit his grandfather’s pants manufacturing company in Toronto’s old Garment District centred on Spadina Ave.

“I saw people from all different parts of the world working in his factory,” he recalls. “It was their first job, after coming here to make a better life for themselves.”

Rob Cooper, CEO and president of Alterra, points out features of Rush Condos on the scale model to designer Kelly Cray, centre, and buyer Alex Johnson.
Rob Cooper, CEO and president of Alterra, points out features of Rush Condos on the scale model to designer Kelly Cray, centre, and buyer Alex Johnson.  (Cole Burston / Toronto Star)

Cooper, now 60, didn’t know it at the time but those early experiences helped lay the groundwork for his development company’s downtown residential projects decades later.

Before they build, says Cooper, president and CEO of Alterra Group of Companies, they study the neighbourhood “from the ground up” to get an in-depth understanding of its amenities, attractions and services, and of the people who live and work there.

With their latest project, Cooper has, in a sense, come back to where he started Alterra’s new midrise project, Rush Condos, is located at 520 Richmond St. W. between Spadina and Bathurst Sts., right in the heart of his childhood haunts.

Playing a role in the area’s transformation is particularly gratifying, he says. “These great neighbourhoods you see downtown today — immigrants started out there. That’s what makes Toronto so interesting and diverse.”

After creating communities in the GTA for more than 30 years, he and Alterra “really know the city well,” the developer says, relating more “vivid memories” of his adventures in the urban core.

“I grew up riding the subway. My friends and I rode it end-to-end for 10 cents on Saturday mornings,” he recalls. “We’d always try to get in the front car” for the best vantage point.

Construction of 15-storey Rush Condo, at 520 Richmond St. W., is expected to begin next spring.
Construction of 15-storey Rush Condo, at 520 Richmond St. W., is expected to begin next spring.  (Alterra)

Back then, the Spadina and Queen Sts. area was a magnet for workers in the needle trade who endured a “rough and tumble” life, he says.

He speaks with pride about his Polish grandfather, Abraham Cooper, whose successful garment manufacturing business operated from the 1920s until the late ’60s. Eaton’s department store and Tip Top Tailors were among his customers.

“He did OK. Put two sons through university and created quite a legacy,” Cooper says of the patriarch who died in 1988. “There are 80 of us (in the family) now.”

With the influx of young professionals living in the downtown core, “it’s come full circle,” Cooper says of housing trends since his grandfather’s time.

Cooper's grandfather, David Fine, on Richmond St. W., in the 1940s.
Cooper’s grandfather, David Fine, on Richmond St. W., in the 1940s.  (rob cooper)

And Alterra is in that loop with Rush Condos, whose suite sizes, layouts and amenities should be right up their alley.

“They’re on-brand for what I’m looking for,” says Alex Johnson, a 31-year-old IT professional who’s just bought a one-bedroom, 490-sq.-ft. unit for $608,000.

“It’s a great area, where the action is,” he says, referring to the vibrant arts and entertainment scene where he’s lived for a decade.

Nowhere is art more visible than famous Graffiti Alley, extending for several blocks parallel to Richmond St. W. and behind the condominium site on the lane that shares its name with the new development. The colourful corridor was the backdrop for CBC personality Rick Mercer’s popular walking rants on his weekly TV show, recently ended after 15 seasons.

Rob Cooper of Alterra, right, with designer Kelly Cray and buyer Alex Johnson in front of a mural at Rush Condo's presentation centre.
Rob Cooper of Alterra, right, with designer Kelly Cray and buyer Alex Johnson in front of a mural at Rush Condo’s presentation centre.  (Cole Burston for the toronto star)

In a nod to the urban artists who created the murals, Alterra is incorporating black-and-white graffiti feature walls in Rush’s public areas.

The two tones will bring “high-contrast energy” to the lobby, party room, fitness centre, says interior designer Kelly Cray, creative principal at design firm U31 Inc.

The contrast theme continues through the common areas with the use of exposed concrete, warm woods and white marble, says Cray, who describes the look as “sleek, sophisticated with refined industrial accents.”

While the building will interest a mix of buyers, it will be especially appealing to cyclists and walk-to-workers, according to Cooper, himself a committed two-wheeler.

“For me personally, there’s no better way to get around the city and neighbourhoods,” he says, pointing out that Rush will have just 23 parking spaces but 125 bicycle storage lockers — one for each unit. There are also plans to provide a bicycle repair and maintenance station.

For non-cycling days and forays, public transit is just steps away. Purchaser Johnson needs a car for work but welcomes the walkability features of Rush’s location.

“Walking is key,” says Johnson, who’s also enthused about Rush Condo’s climbing wall — “an unexpected bonus” — as well as a new YMCA community hub opening across the road in 2020.

Rob Cooper's firm will soon build Rush Condos in the neighbourhood where generations of his family lived and worked. The 1951 tailor shop on the right, at Bathurst and Dundas Sts., belonged to his Uncle Louis.
Rob Cooper’s firm will soon build Rush Condos in the neighbourhood where generations of his family lived and worked. The 1951 tailor shop on the right, at Bathurst and Dundas Sts., belonged to his Uncle Louis.  (Toronto Star archives)

Getting their graffiti on

The inspiration for black-and-white graffiti that will enliven walls at Rush Condos was a Montreal mural that caught the eye of Toronto interior designer Kelly Cray.

Created by artists’ collective En Masse, “it seemed like the perfect fit in a boutique building that has a bit of an edge (and is) in the hippest part of Toronto,” says Cray, whose firm U31 Inc. did Rush’s interior design.

Plans call for feature walls of graffiti in the lobby, party room, fitness centre and outdoor terrace overhang. The condo’s presentation centre at 545 Queen St. W., with exterior and interior murals, offers a hint of what’s to come.

Most of the artwork was impromptu, “like creating jazz on the spot,” says lead artist Jerry Rugg about the five artists who collaborated.

Featured prominently in one mural is the fabled white squirrel of nearby Trinity-Bellwoods Park, although Rugg notes several families of Queen West’s “unofficial mascot” live there.

Working in black and white — which En Masse does exclusively — was a departure for the artists.

“These projects are quite exciting for the artists, getting out of their comfort zone and working with other artists,” he adds.

Rush Condos

Developer: Alterra Group

Location: 520 Richmond St. W.

Architect: Quadrangle

Interior designer: U31 Inc.

Size: 15 storeys, 125 units with suites from 482-sq.-ft., one-bedroom to 939-sq.-ft., three-bedroom plus den layouts

Starting price: From the low-$600,000s

Amenities: Fitness centre with yoga stretch area and climbing wall, party room with dining area, outdoor terrace with barbecue, dining and lounges, pet wash area, bicycle repair/maintenance station

Occupancy: Winter, 2022 (tentative)

Contact: alterra.com, http://www.alterra.com/registration/rush 416-323-1500, info@rushcondos.com

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Victoria real estate agent disciplined for false advertising, encouraging cash deal to avoid taxes

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A Victoria real estate agent is facing $9,000 in fines and a 60-day licence suspension after breaking several professional rules during the sale of her father’s half-million-dollar property, according to a decision by the Real Estate Council of B.C. 

Whitney Garside’s missteps — outlined this week in a disciplinary decision posted on the council’s website — included falsely advertising the property as being almost twice its actual size and advising the buyer they could avoid the property transfer tax if they paid cash directly to the seller.

The property on Burnett Road in Victoria was being sold in 2016 by the real estate agent’s father. That relationship was disclosed and isn’t among the reasons she has been disciplined.

According to the disciplinary consent order, Garside told the buyer — whose name is redacted — that by paying $42,000 cash on the side, the value of the property could be reduced to avoid paying the property transfer tax.

That cash arrangement was not shared with Garside’s brokerage, Re/Max Camosun, a failure that contravened the Real Estate Services Act.

The council also ruled that she “failed to act honestly and with reasonable care and skill” when she advised the buyer the property transfer tax could be avoided by paying cash directly to the seller. 

The council’s discipline committee also found that Garside committed professional misconduct when she failed to recommend the seller and buyer seek independent legal advice, specifically regarding the property transfer tax and the cash agreement.

Another issue the council considered professional misconduct involved the size of the property in question.

The council ruled that Garside published false and misleading advertising and failed to act with reasonable care and skill when the property was advertised as 8,712 square feet, when in fact a portion of the lot belonged to the Ministry of Transportation, and the actual size was just 4,711 square feet.

The discipline committee ordered Garside’s licence be suspended for 60 days, which will be completed Jan. 3, 2021.

She has also been ordered to complete real estate ethics and remedial classes at her own expense.

Garside was also fined $7,500 as a disciplinary penalty and $1,500 in enforcement expenses.

She agreed to waive her right to appeal the council’s discipline committee’s decision in September.

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Frisco apartment community sells to Canadian investor

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A Canada-based investor has purchased a Frisco apartment community as part of a larger Texas deal.

The 330-unit Satori Frisco apartments opened last year on Research Road in Frisco.

BSR Real Estate Investment Trust bought the four-story rental community that was built by Atlanta-based Davis Development.

Satori Frisco was more than 90% leased at the time of sale. The property includes a two-story fitness center, a car care center, a dog park and a resort-style swimming pool.

The Frisco property sold along with Houston’s Vale luxury apartments in a deal valued at $129 million.

“BSR recently exited the smaller Beaumont and Longview, Texas, markets and also sold noncore properties in other markets,” John Bailey, BSR’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We are now using our strong liquidity position to invest in Vale and Satori Frisco, modern communities in core growth markets with the amenities our residents desire.”

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House prices on Prince Edward Island continue steady climb

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Residential real estate prices on Prince Edward Island continue to climb at a rate higher than the national average, according to the latest report from a national organization. 

The Canadian Real Estate Association released monthly figures for November 2020 on Tuesday.

They show that the average price for a resale home on P.E.I. is about 21 per cent higher than it was a year earlier. 

Only Quebec had a bigger year-over-year increase, at about 23 per cent. Overall across Canada, prices were up 13.8 per cent year over year in the ninth month of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the fifth straight month, year-over-year sales activity was up in almost all Canadian housing markets compared to the same month in 2019,” the report noted.

“Meanwhile, an ongoing shortage of supply of homes available for purchase across most of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces means sellers there hold the upper hand in sales negotiations.”

That lack of houses coming onto the market compared to the demand means that in those provinces, there is “increased competition among buyers for listings and … fertile ground for price gains.”

There have been anecdotal reports for months that Prince Edward Island’s low rate of COVID-19 infection and looser rules around social activities have been encouraging people to buy homes on the Island. 

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