The Condo Generation ready to raise their families in downtown High-Rises
Mathew Rosenblatt, a principal with Cityscape Development Corporation (Distillery), plays with his daughter in the Distillery area's daycare - photo by Toronto Star.
GEN-CONS LOOK SKYWARD - THE CONDO GENERATION READY TO RAISE THEIR FAMILIES IN DOWNTOWN HIGH-RISES
Published in the Toronto Star, May 2, 2009.
By Stephen Weir
A new high-rise trend led by the Condo Generation, is pulling into two downtowns. A small but growing number of Gen-Con parents are forsaking dreams of family homes … you know, the one with the white picket fence and the swing set in the large backyard … for condos in the city. There are already family-friendly buildings in downtown Toronto, and Mississauga, with more on the way.
Builders, architects and realtors agree that over the next decade an increasing number of parents will decide to raise their children in high-rise condominiums within the city core. Urbanization, a Toronto condo think tank, isn’t so sure. They believe that as long as units are small, prices are high and monthly fees mount, the suburbs will continue to be a beacon to most Moms and Dads.
In downtown Toronto, the Aura (College Park), and Distillery (Parliament and Front) projects have successfully been selling 2- bedroom with den units and three bedroom condo suites to people who have infants and school-aged children. While there are few if any condos in downtown Toronto that have swings and slides on their rooftop terraces, builders in downtown Mississauga have hit pay dirt by doing just that.
An aversion to commuting, a desire to live in a community that is relatively crime free and wanting all the amenities that downtown has to offer are the three big reasons why bringing up baby now takes place 55-storeys up! Trading backyard lawns for roof gardens has a growing appeal to the current generation of new parents.
“There is a trend, a wave coming," says Mark Cohen, a senior executive with The Condo Store Realty Inc. “It is not because families don’t want that backyard and 21/2 kids. It is just that the low-rise opportunities in the GTA are small. The Green Belt has frozen the last of the available land for affordable new housing. Milton and Bowmanville are now THE place for starter homes, and, for many that makes a 21/2 and 3-bedroom downtown condominium attractive.”
Condo Store Realty Inc is a real estate marketing and investment company that will be launching four condo projects this year. Two of the proposed buildings are in the downtown core and their plans include a few large family sized units.
“I have been following condo selling patterns for 25 years. People are changing their minds about where they want to live their lives and more significantly how they want to live their lives,” he continued. “At the same time we are still a Mecca for immigrants. New Canadians, be they from Europe or Asia, don’t have an aversion to bringing up children in multiple unit dwellings. And let’s face it, downtown Toronto is a very safe place to raise a child.”
In the condo world, families don’t necessarily conjure up that traditional picture of Mom and Dad and a couple of kids. For companies selling units, families simply means at least one adult and at least one child living in the suite some of the time.
“ Many of the so-called “families” in our buildings are single parents, their children aren’t living with them all the time. It could be the father with weekend custody or the mother who has them during the week. You might even have the mothers and fathers in the same complex but on different floors or in separate towers,” said Debbie Cosic, sales director for Amacon’s The Residences at Parkside Village in Mississauga
Vancouver based Amacon, is planning to create a de facto downtown for Mississauga over the next decade. Its Residence at Parkside Village will include over 6,000 condos (16,000+ people) in a dozen buildings on a 30-acre empty lot adjacent to the Square One Mall, the YMCA, the Living Art Centre, Library and City Hall in Mississauga. Construction is expected to begin this fall on their first building, the 36-storey Tower One – The Residence.
CUTLINE: Mark Cohen
“We analyzed what people want and as a result we have put family sized units into our first three building,” continued Cosic. “It is not just families with infants who are moving in, we are expecting tweens and teens too. We have it all. There is a school, a public park and, of course Square One, within sight of our (soon to be built) condos.”
“ The Tower One building is 95% sold already,” continued Cosic. “25% of the units have been purchased by families (single and dual parents). The same is true with our second building (Tower Two – The Grand Residence) and that is already 75% sold.”
CUTLINE: Model Suite for the proposed Grand Residence includes a child's bedroom
The units being snapped up by parents tend to be 21/2 bedroom suites – homes that have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a walk-in kitchen and a windowless, door-less den. The 6’ x 7.5’ den can be converted into a small nursey, or spare bedroom simply by adding a door. These 1,020 sq. ft condos sell for about $320,000, less than what a new Mississauga house costs.
The amenities for families include a Wifi gaming area, a swimming pool and even an outdoor children’s playground, complete with apparatus on top of a multi-storey glass podium. It should be noted though, that the apparatus area shown on the Amacon scale model has a smaller footprint than the building’s proposed dog run!
Parkside is still a few months away from breaking ground. Also on Burnhamthorpe Road, Smith Davies Developments is building Onyx, its fourth tower on the street. The three completed towers - 375 units Solstice, and 669 unit City Gate Phase I and II – have a mix of condo sizes including 21/2 bedroom units, lofts and townhouses.
CUTLINE: A rendering of the rooftop common area to the Solitice Project
“Onyx Condominiums and Lofts is a 36 storey spire currently under construction in the heart of the Mississauga City Centre, says Renee Bourgon, marketing director for Davies Smith Developments. “ Most of the available suites are one and two bedrooms, and probably too small for a family. But, what is causing a stir, at least with hip parents, are the two storey lofts which span the entire north face of the tower.”
“Solstice and City Gate have far more parent appeal. We have put garden homes on the ground level. These units feel like a house on the inside and from the outside they are part of the building,” she continued. “The main floor has the kitchen, living, dining and bath and upstairs there are two-bedrooms and a convertible reading nook. They are good for people starting a family.”
CUTLINE:Renee Bourgon, marketing director for Davies Smith Developments
“My personal belief is that, given the changing demographics in Mississauga, people raising children in condos will become the norm. Multiple starts have outsold single-detached here and I believe this will continue in the future. We will see more people moving to the city core.”
CUTLINE: 10,000+ people will live in an area that is now an empty field. The multi-building complex will include family unit condos. The field is adjacent to the Square One Mall and Mississauaga City Hall, in Mississauga, Ontario.
In Toronto’s core there are pockets of families living in high-rise condos and their numbers will increase as purchased, but not yet built projects, are opened. The largest is Aura, a Canderel Stoneridge project.
The Montreal-based condo builder is poised to begin construction of the 75-storey condominium tower just south of College Park at the corner of Yonge and Gerrard. The residential skyscraper will create a vertical community of close to 3,000 people … many of whom will be under the age of 18.
“What we have done is for the first 55 floors we have created a stack of 3-bedroom units on the southeast corner of Aura,” explained Riz Dhanji, Canderel Stoneridge’s vice-president of sales and marketing. “These have sold very quickly. We weren’t surprised; we could see there are a lot of people (who already own smaller condos) wanting to move up to the 3-bedroom. These are people who have two kids or they are planning to have kids.”
Most of the building’s suites have been sold, but with the remaining inventory Canderel Stoneridge has rejigged some of the units. “We have created larger 2 bedroom with dens and they are being picked up too,” continued Dhanji. “People are either downsizing or upsizing and the 21/2 has a real appeal.”
Aura is the third phase of a massive project that is rejuvenating the Eaton College Park Block. The people, who are moving into the recently opened buildings on Bay Street, are, for the most part, coming alone.
“ The units in Phase One and Two are smaller, and as a result attract singles and couples, which is typical for downtown” he continued. “ The reason for this is that developers tend to build small. They feel there is a price point that consumers won’t go past. For families $400,000 for a larger unit can be a tough sell.”
However Dhanji is finding with Aura that old adage – if you build it they will come – holds true. The appeal of the larger suites coupled with a desirable location out trumps price point concerns.
The company’s gamble to create larger units has paid-off because of life-style reasons. Parents are choosing to live in the Yonge and Dundas district because it has it all – entertainment, restaurants, schools, world-class health facilities, and a large police presence. Whether it is budget driven or for environmental reasons, people moving into Aura are bringing their offspring but not their cars … the building has upped the number of bike racks available for residents.
A 1068 sq ft 3-bedroom suite on the lower floors of Aura sold for about $620,000 (all are sold out now). A 1,393 sq. ft 3-bedroom suite on the upper floors (+55), sold at $960,200 with parking and a locker. The condo price without a parking spot and storage was $917,700.
Including the size of the balcony the 3-bedroom units that are on floors 6 to 55 are about 1,100 sq ft. The units have two modest sized bedrooms on one side of the curved unit and on the other wall there is a large master bedroom with en suite bath. Indoors and outdoors meld in the living area – kitchen, dining, living room and the door to the balcony are all in one large 16.6 x 7.6 area.
City councilor Adam Vaughan wants to see more new family-friendly condos buildings in the downtown core. The Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina councilor tells condominium developers to commit to building three-bedroom family units in 10 per cent of all new condos.
Core Architects, an award winning downtown firm, is being innovative, to abide by Vaughan’s 10% rule in the design of a two new condo projects in his riding. Concerned that 3-bedroom units will not sell, Core has come up with a Transformer style building, that creates family sized suites only when there is a Gen-Con demand.
Working with Freed Development, Core has designed an 11-storey building that will be constructed at Portland and Niagara Street (near Bathurst and King St W) in Toronto. Most of the suites in Seventy5 are geared to singles and childless couples and are sized small. However, there are a few 2-bedroom suites strategically placed adjacent to 1-bedrooms. Side-by-side, the two units can be converted into 3-bedroom suites.
“We couldn’t design a building with 10% (family sized) because they won’t sell – the cost for most people is too high. That is why we came up with the convertible,” explained Core architect Charles Gane, “That means we put a 400 sq ft single condo beside an 800 sq ft one and half or two bedroom condo. If someone wants to purchase both at the same time, we can simply knock out a panel and they have a larger suite.”
“5% of the suites are full size and a further 5% are convertible, which fits what councilor Vaughan is pushing for,” he continued. “It is very flexible. You could buy both units and keep the one-bedroom as an investment unit and when a child comes along, the wall can come down. Or conversely, when a child leaves home, the wall can go back, and you have a rental unit.”
There is no concrete in the wall between the two convertible units, making the expansion relatively simple. However, the newly constructed condo will have two front doors, two kitchens and two taxable addresses. One of the kitchens can be removed and stored for when the extra unit is no longer needed, unfortunately one can’t warehouse taxes.
“I don’t think we are the first to do this, but, I think we are the first in this city. It was done out of necessity.” Core has designed two convertibles buildings in Toronto, the aforementioned Seventy5 and Six50King, a two-building complex near King and Spadina.
CUTLINE: Model of proposed Distillery District condo which will include family sized units
“ There are different parts to the family market, based on the age of the children, the number of parents and the number of children,” said Mathew Rosenblatt, a principal with Cityscape Development Corporation, owners and developers of the Distillery District. “There is part of the family market we call specifically, full family.”
“ That is our niche within that family market,” he continued. “I would say we seem to attract young couples who are pregnant and who see that this is a good place to have a child. We see people with children (touring their model suites), probably up to the age 5, and some with older children as well.”
Cityscape Development Corporation acquired the historic 13-acre Distillery District 8 years ago. Since then the company, along with its partner Dundee Realty, has turned a century old liquor factory into a tourist destination complete with theatres, art galleries, restaurants and public spaces. It is also building condominiums, some of which are larger sized family friendly units.
“What attracts families to the distillery? Well for one thing, all of the roads are pedestrian only. The air is clean, it is urban park,” said Rosenblatt. “ In the summer you see mothers’ groups -- moms with strollers – coming to the Distillery to take it all in, knowing that their children are safe.”
“There is an early learning centre on the second floor (of a building off Parliament Street) that children living in the Distillery are attending. My daughter is enrolled in the daycare,” he continued. “For older children there is a non-denominational, co-educational private school on the property.” Voice Intermediate School is housed in the historic Cooperage Building. The 8,000 sq ft school teaches grades 4 through 8 and specializes in the arts.
“We market the fact that there is an early learning centre and a private school here,” said Mathew Rosenblatt. “The Cityscape partners have always viewed that it is the mix of the tenants that makes a neighbourhood. If we only went for the money we wouldn’t be selling family suitable suites at all.”
The company has already built and opened Pure Spirit, a loft and condominium community within the Distillery District. Most of the suites are sold, but, their website lists a 6th floor 1,109 sq. ft 21/2 bedroom loft for $550,000. There is also an empty 21/2 bedroom on the 31st floor suite for sale for $687,000.
Their on site sales office is now marketing condos in the second and third phase of the of the project. The 40 storey Clear Spirit Courtyard and Tower will have 21/2 bedroom units ($627,000) in the Courtyard section of the building and 21/2 ($925,000) and 3 bedroom ($999,000) on the penthouse levels of the Tower.
The Gooderham, the final tower in the Distillery will be a 35-storey glass 310 unit building. It too has family suitable 21/2 ($1,033,000) and 3 bedroom ($1,415,000) suites on its penthouse levels.
Is this Gen-Con movement to the centre of cities a real force or just wishful thinking? According to Urbanation’s Jane Renwick, if there is an incoming wave of family buyers, it hasn’t made much of an impression on the overall sales figures in Toronto.
“ I hate to be a naysayer, but I think we’re trying to cultivate a trend here. We’re not seeing a lot of three bedroom units being built, or in the pipeline. If families were demanding larger condominium units, then developers would be building them. We looked at data from 2002 to 2007 and about 1% of the suites were three bedroom layouts,” said Renwick the executive vice-president of Urbanation Inc. The consulting company tracks the Toronto high-rise condo market and regularly publishes a condo data report.
“ A lot of families who are in the market for a place to live are still wanting a single family home… yes the one with the white picket fence,” she continued. “There are some major lifestyle issues that are just not attractive to families when it comes to condo living. If you consider a typical condo layout, it has a very small entrance way – once you park a stroller at the front door and create a play area in the living room, getting in, out and around becomes problematic.”
“ It is also a case of simple economics (that has stopped the Gen-Con downtown wave). Dumping the car will save you money, but if you get out a mortgage calculator and look at the numbers, you’re paying about $474 a square ft for a condo in the former City of Toronto. Multiple that by 1,230 sq. ft – the average size of a 3 bedroom unit – and you are looking at $583,000, or $2,436 a month in mortgage payments (based on 20% down, a 25 year amortization period and a 5-year fixed mortgage rate of 3.9%), plus $554 in condo fees and you’re pushing $3,000 a month – about the same mortgage payment as a $700,000 house.
“Of course, this simplified comparison does not consider the additional carrying costs of property taxes, utilities, and insurance. However for single parents, or couples with a baby who can live in a 700 sq. ft one bedroom plus den unit, condo living is an affordable option.”